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Submitted by Maria Newhouse
At 18, Sheldon Shen (Portage Central High School) spent two hours of each school day at the Air Zoo this year, taking part in the organization’s KRESA Education for Employment: Introduction to Aviation course taught by Alan Hollaway, who also serves as the Air Zoo’s technical services manager. About Sheldon, Mr. Hollaway shares that, “Sheldon is an outstanding example of the best of our young people, and I have no doubt he will acquit himself admirably as he embarks on his career in the Air Force.”
While Sheldon says that he has always known that he wanted to serve in the military, he was undecided on which branch until the summer before his junior year of high school. “I took the class at the Air Zoo,” he said, “to learn more about aviation and decide if I really wanted to fly. This class, especially the tours we go on to see different parts of the aviation industry, has increased and broadened my interest in aviation and I know for sure now that I want to fly.”
After graduation this year Sheldon is bound for the Air Force Academy, one of just 1100 students accepted into the class of 2023. “I don’t know what came first,” Sheldon shared, “this course at the Air Zoo or my decision to pursue the Air Force Academy, but I do know that it has given me a head start on some of my peers because I have a level of exposure to aviation that they may not have.”
Unlike Sheldon, Nathan Couk (Western Michigan University) has always known he wanted to fly. “My grandfather was a World War II veteran,” he shares, “and both he and my father wanted to fly. Neither of their dreams came to fruition, and since I was raised with the idea that serving your country is a noble cause I decided this was the way I wanted to do it.” Currently part of Air Force ROTC Detachment 380, Nathan attends WMU on a full-tuition AFROTC scholarship and has secured one of about 800 pilot slots in the Air Force for the class of 2020.
Nathan has a long and inspiring history at the Air Zoo, where he sat in his first airplane – the C-47 Skytrain – when he was just 4-years-old. His first flight experience, also at the Air Zoo, took place during an EAA Young Eagles event when he was in fifth grade. In high school, Nathan then enrolled in the EFE course that Sheldon is currently enrolled in and has worked at the Air Zoo since 2016.
“Nathan is a true aviation enthusiast,” Al Hollaway recalls, “and absorbs aviation like a sponge. He will be an asset to anyone he works with.” Nathan says the Air Zoo has had a big impact on his decision to pursue flying. In addition to all his experiences at the Air Zoo, he adds that “I would always come and visit with my grandfather, especially if there was a warbird flying. Always if there was a warbird flying.”
To students who want to pursue the Air Force Academy Sheldon, who participates in multiple extracurricular activities including the Portage Central swim team and track, offers this bit of advice, “Start really early if you can. The Academy looks at more than just your grades, they look at your character, leadership and work ethic. Remember, service before self.” Nathan thoughtfully adds that for students who want to pursue a career in the Air Force, “you definitely have to have a driving sense of purpose behind what you are doing and be willing to put in the work.”