Greg Sumner (B.A.’97, Spanish; B.S.’97, Aviation Technology & Operations)
How were you involved on campus? Bronco Marching Band; Alpha Eta Rho; Alpha Lambda Delta; Resident Advisor; Orientation Student Leader; Foreign Study Peer Advisor; Supplemental Instruction Leader; Flight Instructor
Hometown: Palatine, IL
Current Location: Phoenix, AZ
Job Title and Company/Organization (or what you did before retirement): Captain, United Airlines
Favorite campus memory: Bronco Marching Band warming up at Bernhard Center, marching down West Michigan to cadences, and then participating in the first night game at Waldo Stadium!!
Pre-internet, I was trying to figure out how I was going to pursue my goal of getting an aviation degree and flight training at the university level. Since flight training costs are expensive when compared to other “lab costs,” I was really hitting roadblocks on how I was going to finance getting to my dream career. Fortunately, my college counselor at Palatine High School, Jim Sindelar, had heard about this school in Michigan that had not only aviation, but also a very prestigious scholarship program that might be an avenue (I remember him handing me the Medallion Brochure!). Since we had spent plenty of summer weekends near Sturgis, Kalamazoo seemed like it might be a familiar place to go.
I had always envisioned going to a Big Ten school like my parents, but when visiting several with aviation programs (including my parents’ alma mater), they just didn’t seem to feel welcoming. I was invited to WMU’s Medallion Competition in fall of my senior year, and we got our first taste of that fresh autumn air on campus. I was taken with how friendly the guides were, how the University “entertained” my parents while I wrote essays and did group problem-solving exercises in [now] Schneider Hall, and how over 1,200 high school students were being valued for their academic and extracurricular successes. I left campus feeling that no matter how well I did, the folks at Western valued ME.
Well, a few months later, my father had the distinct pleasure of driving us in a blizzard around Lake Michigan to interview with the Medallion Selection Committee, headed by Stan Henderson, in Fetzer Center. I faced a board room filled with University and local leaders who asked tough questions yet made me feel like I was already part of the WMU family. In the end, I was one of 16 chosen out of 40 finalists to be selected as a Medallion Scholar, and I was only the second out-of-state student to receive the award.
This changed the trajectory of my life. Now looking back, I worked hard to prove that I was worthy of the Committee’s belief in me. I remember the 16 of us being in a fish bowl right from the beginning, with Stan Henderson instilling in us the idea of the “Medallion Ethic”: We were expected to give back to the University and the community more than we had been given through this scholarship. As the Russel L. Gabier Medallion Scholar, I had the additional pleasure of staying connected with my award’s namesake along with many of the folks who interviewed me on that snowy February day in the Fetzer Center; I stayed engaged all throughout my time on campus with Sue Porter and the WMU Foundation so that donors stayed connected with whom they entrusted with their legacies.
I serve on the Alumni Association Board as a testament to all the people at WMU who believed in me, a suburban kid from “the other side of the Lake”, and provided me a platform to grow and flourish. I became fluent in Spanish with some of the finest profesores in the field, I instructed many of WMU’s aviation graduates, represented WMU as a United Airlines Flight Operations intern, and completed a thesis project for my Lee Honors College graduation that is still downloaded by students today.
The dynamic at Western is special: Not too big, not too small. I am extremely proud to carry on the Medallion Ethic and represent the Bronco spirit here in the Desert Southwest!