Like many high school students, Jonathan Aguirre went into his senior year unsure of his life purpose or direction. The future was a big question mark, and he wasn’t making much progress in finding his way to an answer.
But a school counselor’s suggestion that he try taking Aviation and Flight 101, a class offered by Giving Kids Wings Flight Academy, sparked his interest.
“I was [thinking], ‘Hmm, I wonder what that’s about?’” he recalled. “So I went ahead and I signed up. And I just got interested because Mr. Dan Mikkelsen was talking about direct current and alternating current and crazy stuff like that to me and I was in high school and I wasn’t sure what that was. I knew it had to do with electricity…but I didn’t know exactly how it worked.”
Aguirre discovered a new interest in science and mechanics as he learned a wealth of information about the science of flight, bolstered with practical hands-on learning via flight simulators. Aviation and Flight 101 became his favorite class, or what he referred to as his “happy place” during the school day.
The turning point came for him when one day, GKWFA founder Dan Mikkelsen, who was teaching the class, offered to take him on a flight. Aguirre remembers telling him, “I don’t know Dan, I just can’t do it financially. Like not even $50; my parents will not give me money right now.”
Mikkelsen responded, “You know what, Jonathan, don’t worry about it. I’m going to take you for a flight.”
Aguirre said the resulting flight in a private plane was a truly unforgettable experience.
“It was amazing going on that flight!” he said. “That’s what sparked my interest and led me to be an aircraft mechanic right now. I never knew my life would change so much by just taking one class.”
Seeing how much learning about and experiencing flight energized him, Mikkelsen suggested that Aguirre consider attending Spartan Aeronautical University to pursue his Airplane and Power Plant license. Aguirre was hesitant at first; there were so many in-depth technical science and classes that he’d have to take and pass. He says he remembers his mom asking him, “Are you sure you want to do this? It seems a little hard.”
But then he remembered his class with Dan and how he was able to get pretty good grades in the class, and he thought, “I’m pretty sure I can do this. I believe in myself.”
He says Dan’s encouragement helped too, especially once he started classes at Spartan. Whenever he would feel unmotivated or discouraged, he’d remind himself, “Alright, if Dan believes in me, why can’t I keep going?”
Aguirre successfully completed his 2-year certification program at Spartan Aeronautical University and then started studying to take exams to earn his Airplane and Power Plant license. While studying for these exams, a staff member at the Spartan Aeronautical Career Center, let him know about a job opportunity at defense contractor Northrup Grumman. He was nervous, but decided to go for an interview, and a few days later, found out he got the job! He’s now been working at Northrup Grumman as an aviation mechanic for a little over a year.
“This is definitely my dream job,” he said. “Honestly, aviation got me to where I wanted to be. It’s all thanks to Dan because he always had this passion, and that passion molded me.”
“Jonathan has overcome a tremendous amount of adversity in his life to be where he is today. The turnaround he has made and the sense of purpose he has gained is extremely gratifying” Mikkelsen said.