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Aviation grad finds success in the skies

Pilot shares how family, scholarships propelled his aviation dreams

Alan Nguyen’s aviation fascination started with his father.

“He loved airplanes,” Nguyen says. “I grew up in Augusta, Ga., and my dad took my two brothers and I to aviation shows all the time. He would take out his video camera and record the planes. He bought us airplane toys and shirts.”

For Nguyen’s father, the hobby was an escape from a life spent working hard to survive and provide for his family. Both Nguyen’s father and mother were first-generation immigrants from Vietnam who fled the divided country after the Vietnam War. “They wouldn’t have had anything left if they’d stayed there,” Nguyen says. His father worked as a jeweler; his mother in a nail salon, first spending nine years in Germany before coming to the United States, where she met her husband. The two had seemingly found their own version of the American dream.

Then, when Nguyen was 9, his father died suddenly of a stroke. “It was a shock,” Nguyen says. “I didn’t know what was going on other than I wasn’t ever going to see my dad again.”

The family moved to Amelia, Ohio, where Nguyen graduated high school in 2011. He earned scholarships and went to Iowa State for a year before realizing the childhood passion instilled by his father had never faded. Nguyen shifted focus and began looking for aviation programs close to home.

“I heard great things about UC Clermont,” he says. “Great location, amazing aviation program, fantastic facility. And there was the cost — you pay half the price of other aviation programs to reach your goal but still get high-quality instruction.”

UC Clermont’s aviation program is also a Part 141 program, meaning students require fewer hours to earn their airline transport pilot rating, creating a faster path to an airline license. And while Nguyen was already impressed with the program’s affordability, he also earned a number of scholarships: the Bruce A. Ziegler Aviation Scholarship; Sporty’s Foundation Aviation Scholarships; Walker Family Scholarship; and the UC Clermont Book Staff Scholarship. The support has inspired him to pay it forward.

“I want to be a donor someday,” Nguyen says. “I like to help people out, and I know I’m not the only one who comes from my type of background. Not everyone has the money to do what they want to do. I want to be able to say I helped someone achieve their passion and dream career — especially in aviation.”

After completing his aviation associate degree in 2016, Nguyen stayed at UC Clermont to earn his bachelor’s degree in applied administration in 2018. “The BTAS taught me the managerial aspect of industry, and I thought that would transfer better in case of a career change or promotion. Plus, many major airlines require a bachelor’s degree to pilot.”

Nguyen’s decision paid off — after two years as a flight instructor at Sporty’s, he is now a first officer pilot with PSA Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines.

“I love the views up there,” Nguyen says. “They are unparalleled. Weather looks completely different up there. Sunsets and sunrises — all amazing. I love the adventure and discovering new cities each week.”

But while his love for the skies is as strong as ever, his work ethic is firmly rooted in the example set by his parents.

“My mom lost her home country, moved to two foreign countries, lost my dad and has battled COPD,” he says. “She taught me that there is no obstacle that’s too difficult to overcome.”