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Soaring to New Heights
by Cherise Ryan
Flying runs in the family of Cadet Will Flathers, 22. His grandfather was a decorated B-17 pilot in World War II and his father is an airline pilot.
Will Flathers is the first Virginia Military Institute cadet to earn a prestigious Marshall Scholarship awarded by the British Parliament. He plans to study avionics in England before pursuing a career in the U.S. Air Force.
“When I was looking at colleges, I was mainly interested in ones that offered Air Force ROTC,” said Will, a homeschool graduate. Also enjoying hiking, shooting, and camping, Will settled on the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) for his higher education. “I figured that VMI would give me the best of both worlds. I could do the army thing at school for four years and still get to be an air force officer,” he said.
Will’s drive and excellence at VMI went beyond getting him into the air force, however, when in late 2007 he became the first VMI cadet to receive the British Marshall Scholarship (named after VMI’s famous graduate General George Marshall).
The Marshall Scholarship was established in 1953 by the British Parliament to express the gratitude of the British people to America for the Marshall Plan. The program stresses keen intellect, a broad outlook, and is awarded to 40 young Americans each year to finance two years of study at any graduate school in the United Kingdom.
“As could be expected, the competition is fairly stiff,” Will explained. Approximately 1,000 people were nominated for the scholarship this past year alone.
Will started his application in April 2007 (going through 10 drafts), submitted it in October, and was interviewed in November. Interview questions can be anything from “What would you say to Hillary Clinton if you had two minutes to speak to her privately?” to “What do you think is the role of post-Cold War NATO?” Will said one of his interviewers began with, “‘I’m probably your worst nightmare .’”
Raised in Rixeyville, Virginia, Will is the second of five homeschooled children. He was homeschooled since 3rd grade and grew up on a historic farm that added adventure and education to his homeschooling experience. “Every time the veterinarian came to look at the animals, it turned into a science lesson,” he recalled.
“Homeschooling prepared me well [for VMI] because I was used to studying on my own,” Will said. “A lot of my peers had a hard time adjusting from the high school mentality of ‘learn everything in class’ to the college model of ‘learn the highlights in class, everything else on your own.’ Getting off on the right foot is what set me up to be competitive for the Marshall Scholarship in the first place.”
Will plans to use the Marshall Scholarship to study at the University of Sheffield in England after he graduates from VMI. “When I got into my undergraduate research projects at VMI, I found that I really enjoyed engineering as an art and science. I wanted to take the next step and get a master’s, and I wanted to focus on avionics (the electronics inside airplanes),” he said. The University of Sheffield has been doing work in that area so the Marshall Scholarship was a perfect fit.
After graduating from VMI in May 2008, Will will commission as a second lieutenant in the air force with his first assignment at the University of Sheffield. Afterward, he plans to attend pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.
“My two biggest passions (as far as careers go) are flying and engineering,” he said. “I would like to combine them someday as a test pilot. Eventually I would like to get out of the military and just be a civilian.” He said he may return to farming when all is said and done. “We’ll see where God leads.”