THE RECIPIENTS OF NEW scholarships created to support aerospace education in northern Idaho have been awarded to three nontraditional students in the name of increasing awareness about the growing aviation industry and its associated economic opportunities in the region.
North Idaho College Foundation member, Barney Ballard and his wife Carol, are the impetus behind the scholarships created last year for students studying at NIC’s Aerospace Center in Hayden.
“The idea was to have scholarships and provide support for IT (Information Technology), healthcare and the aerospace industry. Aerospace, in particular, is our focus and has immediate job openings for trained students,” Ballard explained. He and his wife are the former owners of the Tango Café in Sandpoint.
The community rallied behind an effort to make NIC more accessible to residents in Sandpoint and helped fund a wet science laboratory. “The purpose was so that students wouldn’t have to go to Coeur d’Alene for certain classes,” he said. The Sandpoint Urban Renewal Association (SURA) was instrumental in bringing the college outreach center into the downtown.
The new scholarships have helped three Sandpoint NIC aerospace students get started or complete their studies. Some of the money has helped finance commutes from Sandpoint to Hayden or pay for schooling while full time employment is on hold during the program. The scholarships honor a great pilot and other noteworthy aviators who contributed to the aviation tradition.
The Chris “Boomer” Wilson Scholarship
The Chris Wilson Scholarship is named for a distinguished pilot from Hope who is immortalized in the character of “Viper” in the 1986 movie “Top Gun.” The first recipient of this award went to now new graduate, Allen Stahlman, 48, of Sandpoint. The scholarship helped him finish the program and commute from Sandpoint to the Aerospace Center in Hayden. He first learned about the program from a high school counselor who tried to introduce his fiancé’s son to the program.
“I looked at one of the brochures and got interested, and I’m glad I did. It’s opened doors for me,” he said.
Stahlman overcame many hurdles to graduate. The former carnival worker knew he needed to increase his employment options in a small town. He went back to school and tackled NIC’s Bachelor of the Arts and Sciences and Applied Technology. Last year, he lost his daughter, and this spring he required surgery, but Stahlman continued his studies throughout. He has completed his Associates in Science and earned certifications for layout technology and composites, repair technician and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling machine. He plans to continue with his bachelor’s degree.
“I graduated high school in 1986 and never thought I’d go back to school. It’s been hard, but it was something I wanted to do … I didn’t just want to pass – I wanted to make the Dean’s List,” Stahlman said. He achieved his goal, graduating with a near 4.0 and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa National Honors Society.
“I’m proof that it’s never too late to go back to school. You just have to be committed,” he said. Although he has some concerns about being hired as an older worker, he knows his perseverance will get him to where he wants to be in the aeronautics industry. “I can do the job as well as any other,” he said.
Sí, Tú Puedes Volar Scholarship
Ballard created the Sí, Tú Puedes Volar (Yes, You Can Fly) Scholarship to create awareness about the Hispanic contribution to aviation. Niki Vandenhouten began her studies as a senior in Clark Fork High School in the Pathways to Technology in Early College High School (PTECH), which gave her insight into other careers where she could work with her hands. She took online classes in composites while still in high school. In the fall of 2015, she began NIC’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program.
“At first I was interested in the medical field, but I was raised like a tomboy, fixing cars. An airplane is not the same as a car, but I thought, ‘Why not?’ I was more interested in the hands on aspect. Other than that, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Vandenhouten said.
She said the scholarship has helped her move closer to Hayden as well as with paying for the tools and classes. Eventually, Vandenhouten would like to work for local aerospace companies, Quest Aircraft or Empire Airlines, which she visited while a student at PTECH. The program is demanding, making full time employment anywhere difficult to manage, but she knows the program will eventually reward her with a position she’ll enjoy.
“It’s been challenging, but it will be worth it in the end. It’s helped me to better myself and helped me with room and board and cut my commute time,” she said.
Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman / Tuskegee Airman Scholarship
With the Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman / Tuskegee Airman Scholarship, Ballard wanted to honor the first black female aviator in the U.S. The scholarship’s name is also a nod to the Tuskegee Airmen, the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Air Forces, who were a group of black combat pilots in World War II.
“The ‘Bessie’ Coleman / Tuskegee Airman was named with the intention of the broader elements in our society who have contributed so much to aviation and who have overcome hurdles through persistent effort,” Ballard said.
Jennifer Treman of Sandpoint is the mother of two boys pursuing her interest in aviation after ten years. Initially, she wanted to become a pilot but decided that her job prospects would increase as a mechanic. The scholarship has helped her and her husband while she is in the program.
“This scholarship really helps to fill in while I can’t provide,” Treman said. She commutes from Sandpoint to Hayden four days per week. When she completes the program in August, she’ll be eligible to take the Federal Aviation Association’s (FAA) licensing examination to become an aircraft maintenance technician. So far, she has a 4.0 in the program.
Treman, 28, who speaks Japanese, has her sights set on working for Quest Aircraft after she’s graduated. The company was recently purchased by a Japanese company which could make it a good fit for her.
“I’m half Japanese and can speak, read and write it. I think I’d be well suited for it,” she said.
She and Vandenhouten are the only women in the program, and she too was raised as a tomboy. Prior to entering NIC, Treman worked for five years in a small machine shop in Ponderay and was the only woman there.
“I prefer that environment more – to play with the tools and be one of the guys,” she said.
Scholarships to show an increased presence of aerospace industry
Although the region’s supply of aerospace jobs is limited, Ballard sees the field expanding and hopes that the scholarships will help others see that opportunities are growing in the area.
“The total picture is that this is a college aviation program and that the field is expanding – that you can succeed in life with a technical education skill. We also hope to find further community support for these scholarships to encourage the nontraditional students in creating opportunities,” Ballard said.