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Eary starter: Woodlands High School senior is now licensed pilot after summer at Purdue

August 24, 2018

One area high school senior likes to casually take her friends and family flying when classes let out for the day. Now, thanks to a scholarship program, she’s licensed to do so.

Maggie Marlow, only 18 years old, is an Air Force JROTC cadet at The Woodlands High School. She’s been a cadet since she was a freshman, but this summer she had the chance to secure her Private Pilot License.

Marlow was one of 120 cadets to receive a $20,000 Chief of Staff of the Air Force JROTC scholarship that enabled her to study at Purdue University for about two months this summer.

She said it was a rigorous yet mind-blowing experience.

“The first four weeks we had an 8 a.m. class, where we were taught knowledge we would need to take the written test. Then, every evening, we would fly,” Marlow said.

There were 20 total students who completed the program at Purdue, and Marlow said they’re her friends for life now.

“We bonded a lot: we studied together, flew together, ate together and worked out together,” Marlow said.

They didn’t do everything together, though. Marlow got to fly “solo” for the first time ever during the program, which means she was the only one flying an aircraft and in charge of everything from takeoff to landing.

This is the first year for the program: the scholarship for which covered student tuition, room and board, meals and textbooks.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Vanessa Saks, who is based in Montgomery, Alabama, does outreach and communication for the Air Force JROTC. Saks said that the scholarship program was designed to spark aviation interest in kids at a younger age.

“By the time someone gets to college, they typically have an idea of what they want to do with their life. Hopefully, this helps put them on a path to the aviation industry, which helps the nation as a whole,” Saks said.

Saks is referring to a looming pilot shortage in which she said nearly 6,000 civilian pilots will need to be hired each year for the next several years.

She said the program was also started to increase diversity in aviation. Currently, she said, women make up less than 6 percent of the profession and minorities make up less than 10 percent.

“Air Force JROTC is the ideal place to inspire cadets, as they’re a naturally diverse group,” Saks said.

Saks also said officials hope to expand the program in the coming years.

Yet, the scholarship program isn’t for just anyone. There were more than 700 applicants, and only those who could pass a robust screening process were awarded the opportunity.

“Not only does it take book smarts in order to pass a course like this, it’s the whole character concept,” Saks said.

Marlow’s mother, Kristine, said Maggie has been learning how to be a leader along the way through mentorship from her high school’s Air Force JROTC instructors — Lt. Col. Chris McMartin, Chief Master Sgt. Dan Ciufo and Chief Master Sgt. Rick Robinson.

Even before she was a cadet, Marlow was surrounded a culture that showed her what it means to be in aviation. Maggie’s dad flew Air Force Special Operations and is now a pilot for United Airlines. Her mom, Kristine, was also in the Air Force and graduated from the United States Air Force Academy.

The scholarship program has allowed Marlow to obtain 46 flight hours and college credit from the license training course, getting her one step closer to her goal: to attend the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado and ultimately become an Air Force officer.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com

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