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WCCC aviation program rises to new heights with generous donations

The commercial airline industry made headlines after numerous flight delays and cancelations left tens of thousands of passengers stranded this fall. In the early days of the pandemic, airlines had to cut costs. They offered early retirement, staff buyouts and unpaid leave to survive the times. Now airlines are scrambling to hire staff to increase their workforce and Western Colorado Community College's Aviation Technology program is the solution.

WCCC’s Aviation Technology program is training the future workforce which will aid in the global airline staffing shortage. Aside from industry demands, there’s a high volume of community support. Thanks to Ron Tipping, CMU alumnus and former owner of Grand Junction Pipe & Supply, WCCC students will now have a Piper Super Cub aircraft to call their own; and thanks to former Foundation Board member Glen McClelland, they will have a place to keep it.


“Ron Tipping’s and Glen McClelland’s contributions to Western Colorado Community College’s Aviation Technology program are great examples of how giving back can be done in a number of ways, not just through cash donations,” said Colorado Mesa University Vice President of Development and Foundation CEO Robin Brown. “Higher education can no longer rely on state funds to provide students what they need to succeed in today’s world. Thankfully, we have incredible community and alumni support. Without them, we couldn’t do what we do.”

On Friday, November 5, students, staff, instructors and community members gathered at the Grand Junction Regional Airport as Tipping and McClelland handed over the keys to the plane and the hanger. President Marshall and Board of Trustee member Lori Buck talked about the importance of meeting industry demands by supporting vocational training. Together, the group celebrated the unique gifts to the program and the exciting things to come.

“When we see alumni like Ron Tipping giving back to our programs and our students it reminds us that Mavericks support one another long after they leave this campus,” said President Marshall.


Gretchen Riedel, now an alumna of the flight school, is a success story for the program. She started in 2018 when she realized what she wanted more than anything was to travel and fly and make a career out of it.   

“Before I started the program at WCCC I was kind of lost. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I thought, what do I like to do? Well, I like to travel and fly and experience new and challenging things. Then it hit me, why don’t I be an airline pilot?” said Riedel.


Riedel was the first female to graduate from the program. After graduation, she became an instructor for the flight school and enrolled in the SkyWest Cadet Program that’s offered to WCCC graduates. The SkyWest Cadet Program offers one-on-one mentorship with a SkyWest captain or pilot, interview assistance, a guaranteed final interview and seniority in the ground class if hired. This month, Riedel starts her training as an official SkyWest employee.

“It was absolutely incredible to get hired by my choice airline. I was so happy. I interviewed and I got a call two hours later saying, ‘Hey we want you, we want to hire you,’ and I was just blown away,” said Riedel.

“Gretchen first came to Grand Junction as a psychology major but found her home in the Aviation Technology program. After going through the SkyWest Cadet Program, she’s now a graduate and a member of the SkyWest team. This is what happens when we partner and work together. We get to tell success stories,” said WCCC Vice President of Community College Affairs Brigitte Sundermann.

Now, as an official commercial airline pilot, Riedel is a mentor for young, female aviators who are in training. It’s people like Riedel, Tipping and McClelland who give back in unique ways that truly make a difference.

“The amount of support WCCC has seen over the last couple of years is nothing short of remarkable. An investment in our programs is an investment in our students, our community and our region. The aviation technology program is the perfect example of that,” said Sundermann.

To learn more about how you can make a difference in the lives of students visit


Written by Kelsey Coleman