Familiar questions that probably all students, past and present, have thought or asked at some point in their academic careers. As a student, Dan Mikkelsen, founder and CEO of GKWFA was no different. However, the answer to these questions came for him during his sophomore year of high school when he had the unique opportunity to take an experimental aviation course at Naperville North High School, a large suburban school located about 30 miles west of Chicago. The course was a complete private pilot ground school, taught by a veteran flight instructor with over 2000 hours of flight experience. “It really made me see how exciting and empowering math and science concepts could be when taught in an engaging and relevant context. I looked forward to going to the class every day.” Mikkelsen said. This was the seed that eventually gave birth to Giving Kids Wings Flight Academy nearly 18 years later.
In August of 2005, Mr. Mikkelsen made the 2000 mile move to California to teach in the urban high schools of South Los Angeles. In his first year of teaching, he led about 20 students on a field trip to Compton Airport to experience the annual aviation fair held there in January. He was deeply moved by the expression on the faces of two of his students, Evelin and Marla, when they experienced flight in an aircraft for the very first time. See Evelin and Marla fly!
Over the next four years, he led between one and two dozen aviation trips to Compton, Torrance, Hawthorne, and Los Angeles airports, where students have had the chance to experience piloting themselves and have been able to explore other related careers in aviation.
In January of 2009, with the invaluable help of of Sheryl Turner, Giving Kids Wings Flight Academy (GKWFA) was founded with the mission of engaging students in math and science, increasing the number of minorities and females in aviation related careers, and leading educational innovation in the public school system. Students enrolled in the elective courses experience basic and advanced, ground and flight training via PC-based flight simulators. All students are given the opportunity to take their first flight lesson with a Certified Flight Instructor. Students showing interest and determination to pursue a career in aviation are eligible for flight training scholarships to give them a head start in pursuing their dreams of flight.
In the fall of 2011, GKWFA partnered with DaVinci Science High School to offer ground training, computer flight simulator instruction, first flight and professional training opportunities as an elective class to all students. Today, the partnership remains strong. Between 100 – 200 students have completed the course. 32 students have gone for their first flight lesson, 11 are engaged in active flight training, six have soloed, and three have earned Private Pilot’s licenses.
Combined with work the foundation has done with other high schools and groups, GKWFA has provided 72 first flight lessons, seven aircraft solos, four Private Pilot Licenses, $7,100 in flight training scholarships, and $5,000 in financial support for first flight opportunities.