UC Clermont aviation program celebrates 30 years

Longstanding community partnership helps students soar

Five minutes determined the path of Eric Radtke’s life.

Radtke, now chief instructor of UC Clermont’s aviation technology program and president of Sporty’s Academy, Inc., had just boarded his first airline flight at 7 years old. The plane’s first officer showed Radtke the flight deck and described his day job. Radtke was hooked.

“The five minutes he gave me to talk about what he did sold me on aviation,” Radtke said.

After graduating high school, Radtke immediately enrolled in UC Clermont’s burgeoning aviation technology program, which had launched in the fall of 1992. He previously had considered joining the military, but once Radtke discovered a local aviation program that had everything he was looking for, “it was an easy choice.”

“UC Clermont felt like a small, close-knit community where you weren’t going to be just another student in the back of a large auditorium,” said Radtke, a UC Presidential Scholar who completed his professional pilot training and associate degree in 1998. “Within a few weeks, you knew everyone’s name, both students and instructors.”

Eric Radtke

Eric Radtke

After earning his bachelor’s degree in finance from UC’s Lindner College of Business, Radtke worked for a year as an airline pilot before returning to UC Clermont and Sporty’s as an instructor in 2002. He was honored as the college’s Distinguished Alumnus in 2013.

“I’ve been flying since the fall of 1996, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it,” he said.

Radtke is one of now hundreds of graduates who have completed the aviation program since its inception. Just five students enrolled for that first semester; today, more than 100 students are in the associate degree and professional pilot certificate programs.

The growth highlights a 30-year partnership between UC Clermont and Sporty’s that has allowed the college’s unique aviation technology program to become one of the top 10 pilot training programs in the United States.

Sporty’s Academy is the educational division of Sporty’s Pilot Shop, the world’s largest provider of aviation educational resources and pilot supplies and a Federal Aviation Administration-approved pilot school headquartered at the Clermont County Airport in Batavia, Ohio — less than a mile from the UC Clermont campus.

The best jobs in aviation require a college degree, often a bachelor’s degree. Combining UC with Sporty’s makes each program that much stronger.

Eric Radtke Chief instructor, UC Clermont aviation technology; president, Sporty's Academy, Inc.

Sporty’s will be honored with the UC Clermont Partnership Award at the college’s Celebration Luncheon recognizing partnerships and scholarships March 23.

“The 30th anniversary of UC Clermont's aviation program is a great example of a private/public partnership,” said Dean Jeff Bauer. “The support of Sporty’s Academy, and founders Hal and Sandy Shevers, have helped make this program among the best in the country.”

Radtke calls those who founded the partnership, including the Shevers, “forward thinking” for pulling together the collective expertise of both entities.

“Sporty’s has been around for 60 years, and the name is recognizable within aviation circles,” Radtke said. “At the same time, the best jobs in aviation require a college degree, often a bachelor’s degree. Combining UC with Sporty’s makes each program that much stronger.”

Radtke, like more than 90% of students who complete the associate degree program, earned his bachelor’s degree while working as a flight instructor at Sporty’s. Student instructors acquire up to 800 hours of flight experience by graduation, allowing graduates to succeed in a variety of aviation career paths. Most complete their bachelor’s degree in applied administration, offered entirely online through UC Clermont.

UC Clermont Aviation student, Alan Nguyen

Alan Nguyen. Photo/Danny Kidd

Alan Nguyen was one of those students. After completing his associate degree in aviation, he stayed at UC Clermont to earn his bachelor’s degree in 2018. Nguyen started his career with PSA Airlines and is now a first officer with Delta Airlines.

“I love the views up there,” Nguyen said. “They are unparalleled. I love the adventure and discovering new cities each week.”

Nguyen’s participation in the program was made possible in part by scholarships, something he also shares with a significant number of UC Clermont aviation students. In total, $61,000 in scholarships was awarded to those enrolled in the program in 2021-22. The support inspired Nguyen to pay it forward.

“I want to be a donor someday,” Nguyen said. “Not everyone has the money to do what they want to do. I want to be able to say I helped someone follow their passion and achieve their dream career.”

That connection among alumni stands out as a core strength, Radtke said, as he reflected on the first three decades of a program that now boasts pilots in every part of aviation.

“It’s one of those value-added, intangible features that gives students peace of mind that they’re going to have resources, people who can assist them as they grow in their careers,” Radtke said. “I love getting to see our students achieve their dreams.”

To learn more about UC Clermont’s Aviation Technology program, visit https://ucclermont.edu/aviation.html.

Top featured photo: UC Clermont plane pictured in front of the Sporty's Academy, Inc. headquarters at the Clermont County Airport in Batavia, Ohio. Photo/Danny Kidd

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