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Dover AFB, DSU collaborate on aviation program

A group of Dover State University Students conversing with a Dover Air Force Base Pilot.

Capt. Curtis Riley, 9th Airlift Squadron C-5M Super Galaxy pilot, mingles with Delaware State University students during an aviation mentorship kickoff event at the Air Mobility Command Museum on Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, April 23, 2021. The event launched the Dover AFB Aviation Mentorship Program with a goal of providing mentorship opportunities to DSU students undergoing the rigorous challenges of pursuing a private pilot’s license or other aviation certificates. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mauricio Campino)

A group of Delaware State University students conversing with a Dover Air Force Base pilot.

First Lt. Lance Torres, 9th Airlift Squadron C-5M Super Galaxy pilot, mingles with Delaware State University students during an aviation mentorship kickoff event at the Air Mobility Command Museum on Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, April 23, 2021. The event allowed students to converse with all available mentors and decide which mentor they felt the greatest connection with. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mauricio Campino)

Delaware State University students and 436th Airlift Wing pilots listen to opening remarks by Col. Matthew Jones, 436th AW commander, during an aviation mentorship kickoff event at the Air Mobility Command Museum on Dover Air Force Base

Delaware State University students and 436th Airlift Wing pilots listen to opening remarks by Col. Matthew Jones, 436th AW commander, during an aviation mentorship kickoff event at the Air Mobility Command Museum on Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, April 23, 2021. During the event, 16 mentees were split into small groups with one of eight mentors for a couple of minutes. After introductions and a brief talk, the students rotated through the mentors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mauricio Campino)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. – Military pilots assigned to the 3rd and 9th Airlift Squadrons at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, participated in a mentorship session with students from Delaware State University at the Air Mobility Command Museum April 23, 2020.

The event kicked off the Dover AFB Aviation Mentorship Program, with a goal of providing mentorship opportunities to DSU students undergoing the rigorous challenges of pursuing a private pilot’s license or other aviation certificates.

“It’s kind of a grassroots initiative to link up DSU’s aviation program and some of the younger lieutenants and captains here,” said 1st Lt. Doug Gifford, Dover AFB Aviation Mentorship Program officer in charge.

During the session, 16 mentees were split into small groups with a mentor for a couple of minutes. After introductions and a brief talk, students rotated through one of eight mentors. This allowed students to converse with all available mentors and decide which mentor they felt the greatest connection with.

“Basically we’re going to do some matchmaking to see what mentors work best with the mentees,” said Gifford.

Gifford emphasized the program is meant to develop a sense of esprit de corps between the mentors and students.

“It’s not a recruitment program,” said Gifford. “There will be students [who] are interested in [pursuing] the Air Force route, but I know for a fact there are students [who] are looking at the civilian route as well. It’s really to talk about aviation and anything in general.”

The mentorship program also gives young Dover AFB pilots the opportunity to share their career progression, passion for aviation and life experiences.

“I think mentorship is really underrated,” said Capt. Mary Kuegler, 3rd Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III pilot. “It's super important and can make a really big difference if you have good mentors paired up with the right mentees. I feel like in my experience I haven't had the greatest opportunity for mentorship, so I wanted to afford that opportunity to other people.”

For the DSU students, the interest in aviation stems from varying experiences, all of which inspired them enough to reach out and participate in the aviation mentorship program.

“My dad was in the Air Force since he was 18 years old, so I've been around aviation and planes all my life,” said Elijah Maldonado, DSU student and Aviation Mentorship Program member. “Once I got to middle school, I had a career path class, and I was able to do a lot of research in the aviation career field. That’s what really sparked my interest.”

Gifford hopes the mentorship sessions provide a long-lasting bond that helps students and mentors build on their passion for aviation.

“What we would like to evolve it into is an ongoing relationship with the students while they’re at DSU, all the way up until they graduate and maybe even beyond,” said Gifford.