Administrators for the Polk State College Aerospace Program see a bright future for sophomore Timothy Nickel. Earlier this month, his present got a little brighter as well.
During a ceremony in Tampa on Nov. 2, Nickel was presented with the Tony Jannus Scholarship and Richard Newton Scholarship awards. The two scholarships amount to $4,000 each. Nickel, 24, will use the money for flight training.
“This is going to be a humungous burden off my shoulders,” Nickel said. “I definitely could not have done it without Polk State, Sun N’ Fun, Lakeland Linder (International Airport), and my parents.”
To qualify for the Tony Jannus Scholarship, Nickel wrote an essay and received recommendation from the Polk State Aerospace Program, which submitted nomination forms. Nickel was chosen from a committee of six Jannus Scholarship winners as the top recipient to receive the extra $4,000 that comes with the Newton Scholarship.
“He’s always the happiest guy in the building,” Gordon Mayes, Polk State Program Director for Aerospace, said of Nickel. “He volunteers for everything. He’s an excellent student. This is well deserved.”
Born in Maryland, Nickel noted that he and Tony Jannus were from the same area in his submitted essay. Jannus, a well-known pilot prior to World War I, flew the first plane to have a parachuter and pioneered the first flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line.
In addition to being a student in the Aerospace Program, Nickel is also a member of the Polk State Flight Team, Aerospace Leadership Team, and Safety Team. A resident of Florida since 2017, Nickel originally planned on going into engineering. That changed when he learned about the Polk State Aerospace Program.
“I’ve always loved aviation,” he reflected. “It wasn’t until I found Polk State’s Aerospace Program that I knew this was my path. I’d encourage anyone with even a passive interest in aviation to stop by and check out the program. I’ll be happy to meet you there.”
Set to earn his Associate in Science in Aerospace Administration in the summer of 2024, Nickel plans on earning a Bachelor of Science at Polk State in Aerospace Sciences. He hopes to begin his aerospace career as an operations specialist with the possibility of becoming a pilot later down the line.
“He’s a great leader,” Mayes said. “He could be an executive in the aviation industry. He has a very bright future. I just can’t say enough good things about him.”
In addition to pursuing degrees, Nickel is also in the process of earning his Aircraft Dispatcher Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Since June, Nickel has interned at Lakeland Linder in operations.
“The internship has really opened my eyes to how many opportunities there are in aerospace,” he added. “There are so many options, it’s hard to decide. It’s been an amazing internship. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in aerospace.”
Nickel said there is plenty to love about aerospace. What stands out about the industry most, however, is the people.
“I see people in so many industries who are just there from 9 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m.) for the paycheck,” Nickel explained. “In aerospace, people really care. The program at Polk State definitely reflects those sentiments.”
As a member of the Polk State Flight Team, Nickel helped the program achieve its best finish ever at the 2023 National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference (SAFECON) in May. What separates Polk State from other flight schools, he said, is the closeness and the camaraderie within the program.
“At Polk State, there’s a real sense of community,” he said. “There are great, big flight schools, but here, everyone knows each other. As soon as I knew about winning the Jannus Scholarship, everyone else already knew and were congratulating me.”
If there’s one thing Nickel has working against him, it may be his height. Described by Mayes as a “gentle giant,” Nickel stands 6-foot-5. While cockpits tend to be small, Nickel said that Polk State’s Cessna 172 Skyhawk makes it accommodating for someone his height.
“Luckily, Polk State accommodates taller pilots,” he said. “It’s not a usual thing. There aren’t many tall pilots, but we are out there.”
For his early success, Nickel said it was far from an individual effort. Others at Polk State such as Mayes, Flight Team Coach Lee Malone, Professor Amy Rutledge, former Program Director Eric Crump, former Flight Experience Coordinator Bryanna Travis, and President Angela Garcia Falconetti were credited as a positive influence for him.
“I could go on and on about the great people who helped me along the way,” he concluded. “This scholarship is not a me thing – it’s about everyone who supported me.”