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US: Getting airborne with Nigerian-American student pilot Adaora Osolu

WMU’s Tom Thinnes examines Osolu’s career-building trajectory and what the future holds for her.

By Tom Thinnes

EVEN though Adaora Osolu’s high school diploma was awarded way back in 2019, the junior in the WMU College of Aviation already fits the classic definition of “Renaissance Man” — a multi-talented person who has wide interests.  Except that she’s a “Renaissance Woman.” 
The male prototype of the species is Leonardo da Vinci.  Among the American versions would be the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin.  Comparable females would be super athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn. 

Let’s make the case for Osolu, a double major in the college’s programs in aviation flight science and aviation technical operations.  In filling out a questionnaire for this profile, she listed these interests/hobbies: 

Hiking and backpacking (try a 32-mile adventure), horseback riding as a “hunter/jumper,” daily baking and cooking, playing the guitar, yoga and serving as an instructor, photography, drawing, reading, languages (five years of French and now learning Korean), gardening, and nurturing her 40 house plants.  Want more?  Osolu played varsity lacrosse throughout her four years of high school and now only “plays for fun.”   All this is complemented by her yen for all things aviation — so move over Leonardo, much less Babe and Ms. Hepburn. 
Osolu also qualifies as the restaurant-business version of a “construction brat.”  Her Nigerian-born father has held executive positions with such food-service giants as the Michigan-based Domino’s Pizza and Darden.  Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., Darden is an 83-year-old family of restaurants that includes Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze Island Grille with more than 1,800 locations. 

As a result, the Utah-born Osolu lived six years in New Jersey, four years in neighboring Pennsylvania, two years in Florida, and the Ann Arbor area in Michigan for five years prior to making the move to the Kalamazoo area for her collegiate training.  So how did the latter come about for such a well-traveled young woman? 
For starters, she didn’t decide on an aviation pathway until the end of her senior year at Dexter High School.  But there seemed to be something in her genetic composition pointing her in that direction. 

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“When I would travel with my family on flights,” she says, “I would always look forward to being on the airplane and experiencing an airport more than reaching the actual destination. However, what really sparked my interest was when I joined the Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) while in the ninth grade at Winter Park High School in Florida. I loved every single aspect of that class — the people, the activities, the course materials.” 

Then came what happens in every person’s life — change.  The family’s move to Michigan just before her sophomore year took Osolu to Dexter High near Ann Arbor.  Her new educational base of operations “did not offer any kind of class like that, but from then I always knew that following an aviation pathway would make me happy.”  
But where should she do that? 
“I considered a program in Colorado,” she says, “but decided against it because it was too far away.”  But the decision had to involve more than that because, since childhood and her father’s career, distance was a state of mind, given all of the places where she had been raised and what she had experienced.  
Ambiance came into play, especially after she visited Kalamazoo and checked out the college’s facilities in Battle Creek.  “I loved the Western Michigan University campus, the aviation program and the atmosphere that envelops it,” she says.  “Everyone is so friendly and seemed genuinely excited about helping me on my chosen path.” Plus, “the program here seemed so much more organized and comprehensible compared to others I looked at.” 

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Initially absorbed by the course work required for her double major, the young Renaissance Woman believes she has acquired the required “air legs” to become involved with a few extra-curricular activities.  In her sights are affiliations with Western’s chapters of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals and the National Gay Pilots Association.  Also on her horizon, she believes, is an internship in the summer of 2022 that can be fit in between flight classes. 

Moving her toward all of this, Osolu says, has been her favorite career-related class — Professional Flight 1 Theory taught by Ismail Abuzir, a first-generation pilot and flight instructor who hails from a Chicago suburb.  “He provided a very supportive and friendly learning atmosphere,” Osolu says.  “I felt comfortable asking questions.  There was always a lot of information given out in that class, but in a way that was not overwhelming — which is how it feels in some other classes I have taken.” 
In the spirit of da Vinci, Osolu also mentions another favorite class — molecular and cellular biology, which aligns her with some kind of a “mind meld” with her house plants.  “It was very interesting to learn about the biology and inner workings of cells,” she says, “and how they relate to the body and plants.  I am able to understand all this when I went outside to see how it all worked.” 
While she enjoys the house plants that complement her Western experience, they share the spotlight with its people.  “I haven’t met one person here who isn’t happy to help if I have a question,” she says.  “Everyone is super friendly.  I also love the new building, which represents perfect timing for me because I just started my flight classes.  Being able to study in the new building has been really great because there are so many quiet and comfortable spots for concentration.” 

One of her personal study techniques involves a whiteboard.  Wouldn’t da Vinci and Jefferson have loved one of those!  “I write on it every single thing I can remember from a class.  I then erase what is there and do it again.  The repetition and the action in writing helps me really understand concepts that I had difficulty grasping at first.” 

She’s following the advice of author Edward Tenner, who specializes on the impacts of technology on all aspects of life, including learning.  He recommends that students take notes by writing on paper (or a whiteboard) as opposed to a laptop.  He theorizes that the “writers” retain more knowledge and understanding of the material/content that is being presented. Why? Because of the interaction of the hand nerves/muscles and the brain.  

Because of their times, Leonardo, Ben, and Thomas were somewhat limited in their ability to travel. Not so the case with the College of Aviation’s renaissance gal. The pandemic has recently cramped Osolu’s style, but in the past, she’s traveled throughout the United States and visited her roots in Nigeria.  During high school, a one-month exchange program took her to Ireland, Scotland, England, and a chance to explore the Normandy coast of France where the Allies began their march to Berlin in World War II.  On her bucket list are the countries of eastern and southern Asia. 
After graduation, she’d like to work for a major airline and eventually be assigned to international flights. Way down the line, she says, is flying for a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help underserved regions of the planet. 
But Osolu’s mind is not completely made up because, after all, she is something of a Renaissance Person.

Tom Thinnes is of the Western Michigan University (WMU) College of Aviation.

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