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Students inspire next generation of aviators

For UND Aerospace students, being a summer aviation-camp counselor in Oshkosh, Wis., is hard to beat

From left to right, UND students (wearing red shirts) Augustas Senuta, Max Borrelli, Drew Beck, Aaron Bunce, Ethan Kilmartin, Devin Emslander and Mikaila Gillis stand with Chuck Ahearn and Clay Lacy at Wittman Regional Airport near Oshkosh, Wis. The students — beneficiaries of scholarships endowed in part by Clay Lacy — worked as counselors with the EAA AirVenture Summer Program over the summer. Photo courtesy of UND Aerospace.

By Mackinney Supola

Imagine watching a young person’s face light up while you’re piloting that person on their very first flight in a small plane. This is the experience UND senior Mikaila Gillis had more than 90 times over the summer, when she was working as an aviation-camp counselor.

Gillis and six other UND Aviation students had the chance to spend their summer sharing their passion for aviation with the younger generation. The UND students received either the Clay Lacy or Joe Clark scholarships in the spring, and as recipients of this scholarship, they had the chance to be camp counselors at the EAA AirVenture Summer Program in Oshkosh, Wis.

At the camp, the students dedicated two months of their summer to working with campers and encouraging youth involvement in aviation.

The EAA AirVenture Summer Program is an aviation-centered summer camp offered to high school students ages 12 to 18. Each student spent about a week at the summer camp.

This camp helps build future pilots and provides learning opportunities for all other areas of aviation. The campers learn about aircraft manufacturing, aircraft accident investigation and flight simulators, among many other training and career options in the industry.

From left to right, UND students and EAA AirVenture Summer Program counselors Mikaila Gillis, Augustas Senuta, Aaron Bunce, Devin Emslander and Max Borrelli pose in an aircraft cabin during their summer. Photo courtesy of UND Aerospace.

Archery? No. Aviation? Yes.

The counselors lived in a lodge located on the Wittman Regional Airport, the airport near Oshkosh that’s the site of the annual Oshkosh Air Show. A typical day for these counselors was filled with teaching lessons, overseeing campers, flying and hearing from guest speakers.

Augustas Senuta, a counselor and UND student, particularly enjoyed his time spent teaching. “When you are talking about something you are passionate about and your audience is passionate about it as well, it becomes a really rewarding environment,” he said.

Of the seven UND students, Mikaila Gillis was the only Certified Flight Instructor and spent much of her summer flying campers. Mikaila flew 90 students and logged more than 70 flight hours in a Cessna 152 Sky Catcher.

Not only did She help her students learn more about flying, but also she found the summer to be helpful for her personally. “It was rewarding,” she said.

“It was a great experience to learn what flight-training operations are like, as well as to build some confidence and flight hours, too. Working with the kids and seeing their smiles and how excited they were when they got in the plane just made the whole experience worth it.”

The summer marked a full-circle moment for two of the counselors, as Gillis and Ethan Kilmartin both had attended the weeklong program as campers before attending college at UND. Senuta, the UND student mentioned above, also had a connection to the program. “I personally got into aviation through the Young Eagles program, which is a part of EAA,” Senuta said. “So, it was nice to be able to give back to this program and raise more Young Eagles and contribute to their passion for aviation.”

Watching the fireworks at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2022 were UND students acting as counselors at the EAA AirVenture Summer Program. Photo courtesy of UND Aerospace.

World’s largest air show

One of the busiest weeks of the summer was the week of the EAA AirVenture Show, also known as the Oshkosh Air Show. This is the world-famous annual event hosted by EAA at the Wittman Regional Airport. This summer, roughly 650,000 people attended the event, along with the youth campers in the EAA Air Academy Summer Program.

And besides exploring the air show with their campers, the counselors also had the chance to network with aviation professionals and to attend the UND Alumni Reception. They talked about how rewarding it was to reconnect with former flight instructors from UND who are now airline pilots.

All seven UND students spoke highly of the EAA Air Academy supervisors, Camp Director Scott Cameron and Workshop Director and Associate Counselor Julie Cameron. As one counselor put it, “We saw skills that they have that if we were one day to become a boss or a manager, we would want to have.”

In addition to their experience over the summer, the seven students also received up to $12,500 in scholarship money. “The scholarship was huge for me,” said Aaron Bunce. “Without it, I probably would have dropped out of UND and gone Part 61,” meaning he would have undertaken the less-structured approach to flight training that can be found at local airports vs. the more formal program at a career-oriented flight academy.

The seven UND students expressed how grateful they were to Clay Lacy and Joe Clark for their generous creation of the scholarship. Clark and Lacy both have long and impressive resumes demonstrating their piloting ability as well as their business and philanthropic endeavors.

While Clark died in 2020, Lacy attended AirVenture this year, and the counselors were very thankful to have been able to thank him in person at the UND Alumni Event.

One of the counselors spoke on how impressive the campers were and said, “We were really improvising to challenge these kids to learn more and to keep building off of their passion.”

It was great to be a part of a program that helps young people discover their passions for aviation, the counselors agreed. Current UND students are encouraged to apply for the scholarship this year.

UND is grateful for the aviation community for creating opportunities like this one, UND Aerospace officials said. Joe Clark, Clay Lacy and their connections within the industry have opened doors for many aviators, the officials noted.

Mackinney Supola

About the author:

A certified flight instructor, Mackinney Supola is working toward bachelor’s degrees in Commercial Aviation and Communications at UND. She’s currently a marketing intern in the Dean’s Office at the University’s Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.