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Aviation program dedicated to Hunter Carlos Willis

ISSUED: 27 April 2022

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University, Bravo Flight Training, and the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport (MRB) dedicated the Hunter Carlos Willis Aviation Program at Shepherd University during an event at the airport on April 27. Shepherd President Mary J.C. Hendrix told those gathered at the dedication that the inspiration for the program’s name came from a courageous, local teen—Hunter Carlos Willis.

“Hunter had a true passion for flying and a dream to become a commercial pilot,” Hendrix said. “He aspired to attend Shepherd University and be the first student in the aviation program.”

Hunter, the son of Thomas and Sara Willis, was born December 21, 2002, in Alexandria, Virginia. He was also a Woodberry Forest Tiger and steam train engineer. He died January 22, 2022, at age 19. During the dedication, Hunter’s father, Tom Willis, shared insight into his son’s personality, passion for flying, and struggles with bone cancer, which he was diagnosed with at age 10.

“Hunter displayed courage and never complained, which was remarkable considering what he went through,” Willis said. “As we look to establish the Hunter Carlos Willis Aviation Program, one of the pillars that I hope upon which it stands is the character trait of courage that Hunter showed.”

Currently, the Hunter Carlos Willis Aviation Program offers a concentration in the College of Business for students pursuing a degree in business administration. The goal is to expand into an aviation minor and eventually offer a full baccalaureate degree.

“Shepherd feels a deep sense of responsibility to help address the urgent needs of the aviation industry, and this includes transportation needs, supply chain issues, and how this is affecting the global economy,” Hendrix said. “The unique partnership we have created will begin to address the marketplace challenges and support the rapidly growing businesses emerging right here in the Eastern Panhandle, an area we are proud to be a part of.”

Shepherd’s aviation degree will help address the urgent need for employees in all aspects of the industry according to Nick Diehl, executive director and CEO of MRB. Diehl cited statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor that project a 15 percent growth in aviation industry jobs between 2020-2030.

“That’s a significant jump. It’s a faster job production than most other occupations,” Diehl said. “We’re also seeing an increase in general aviation and we’re seeing a lot of that growth here in the Eastern Panhandle.”

Diehl pointed out that over the past three years, there’s been a significant increase at MRB in fuel sales, takeoffs and landings, charter service demand, and aircraft based there.

“We see the need for aviation professionals,” he said. “The need for pilots, flight engineers, flight workers, and mechanics is very high. They’re each in-demand occupations according to the U.S. Department of Labor.”

A fund for the Hunter Carlos Willis Aviation Program at Shepherd University has been created through the Shepherd University Foundation to help support the rapid growth of this new academic opportunity. For more information on how to support this program, visit the Hunter Carlos Willis Aviation Program webpage.

Audio of Dr. Mary J.C. Hendrix, Tom Willis, and Nick Diehl is available here.

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