Walt, Ginger Woltosz establish Bessie Coleman Scholarships to support Auburn Aviation students

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A newly established scholarship fund in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University will honor an aviation legend by supporting the next generation of aviation leaders.

The Bessie Coleman Annual Scholarship, established by Walt and Ginger Woltosz, will be awarded to Auburn students in professional flight and aviation management. Their annual gift of $100,000 is expected to support up to 10 students each year.

Walt and Ginger Woltosz are aviation enthusiasts and avid Auburn supporters. From 1969 to 1970, while Walt (’69, ’77) was a graduate student in aerospace engineering at Auburn, he taught in the aviation management program and learned to fly planes in Lanett, Alabama, taking his private pilot check ride in 1970 under former Auburn University Chief Pilot Gary Kitely.

For more than 40 years, the Woltoszes have flown across the U.S. in their own airplanes, ranging from single- and multi-engine propellor-driven planes to business jets. They now add the Bessie Coleman scholarships to a tradition of supporting need-based financial assistance at Auburn.

“I have been extremely fortunate to be able to satisfy my passion for flying, and we love sharing the experience with others,” Walt Woltosz said. “Our goal with the Bessie Coleman scholarships is to allow students who could not otherwise afford to attend Auburn to be able pursue their dreams. The professional flight program is expensive, and the costs alone could turn many students away. A prospective student who dreams of becoming a professional pilot and has the aptitude and attitude to be successful, but is forced to give up their dream, is heartbreaking.”

Breanna Amstutz is a senior in aviation management with a minor in business who received one of the first Bessie Coleman scholarships.

A week before Amstutz planned to start college, her father, Peter, passed away. He was a helicopter pilot and largely supported the family financially. The grief of losing a loved one, combined with the financial stress placed on Breanna, her mother Yvonne and her three younger siblings threw the future into uncertainty.

Amstutz said the Bessie Coleman scholarship is a “godsend” that will not only allow her to finish school with a decreased financial burden, but will help support her entire family.

“Telling my mom I got the scholarship, and seeing the relief and happiness in her eyes, was honestly the best for me because I feel like I can now continue to move on with school and know that my mom’s not stressed about how I’m going to pay for it,” Amstutz said. “This has definitely allowed us to feel less stressed and more hopeful for the future financial-wise. This gives us an opportunity, and we can start saving up for my brother now, who will be going to college next.”

The scholarship fund is named after Bessie Coleman, born of an African American mother and Native American father in 1892. In 1921, Coleman became the first American of any race or gender to hold an international pilot’s license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in France. She is remembered as an iconic aviator who performed dangerous air shows and an activist who refused to perform at venues where guests of color had to enter through different gates.

For professional flight junior Kadon Luke, the Bessie Coleman scholarship will cover tuition and flight training costs. Beyond the financial assistance, Luke said the opportunity drives him to work even harder to become an airline pilot.

“This scholarship means a ton to me, and to be one of the recipients of the first ones makes it even more special. Bessie Coleman is a very important person in aviation history and to be chosen to receive a scholarship in her name is an honor,” Luke said. “After learning about her commitment to becoming a pilot despite everything against her, it gives me motivation to keep pushing through my training and go into an industry where sometimes I may feel like an outlier.”

Auburn School of Aviation Director James Witte said the Bessie Coleman Scholarship offers students in both the professional flight and aviation management programs a new opportunity to succeed by bridging the gap between students and costs associated with aviation.

“In today’s world, the attainment of commercial flight credentials is a resource-intensive undertaking, particularly in view of the cost of learning to fly,” Witte said. “For the Auburn Aviation student, the pathway to success is broadened and allows a wide range of students who previously would have sought less expensive career opportunities. We cannot sufficiently express our thanks and appreciation for the generosity of Walt and Ginger Woltosz, who made the Bessie Coleman Scholarships possible.”

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