The Father of Flight Instructors

Prescott alumni rally to name a building and a scholarship fund for their retired teacher

When longtime Embry-Riddle Prescott Campus flight instructor Richard E. “Dick” Samuels taught his students something, they rarely forgot it.

“He would be very demonstrative,” says Sean Jeralds (’88, PC; ’94, WW), an associate professor of aeronautical science and former student and colleague to Samuels. “He would get your attention by using colorful language and metaphors to get his point across.”

Now, two of Samuels’ former students, Katie Pribyl (’00, PC) and Jared Testa (’01, PC), want to ensure that their teacher’s dedication to young aviators won’t be forgotten. The alumni duo are leading an effort to name an Embry-Riddle scholarship and flight instructor building in his honor.

To date, more than $50,000 has been raised to create the Dick Samuels Scholarship, which will support flight instructor training for students at the Prescott Campus. The ultimate goal is to raise $100,000, which would both endow the scholarship and name the flight instructor building at the Prescott Campus flight line after Samuels.

“Dick was somebody who meant a lot to a lot of people,” says Testa, a pilot at Aero-Flite Aerial Firefighting. “He had a unique way of expressing his desire to see his students succeed.”

Known for his unconventional teaching style, Samuels, who retired in 2001, taught generations of flight students. Now living in Sun City, Ariz., Samuels says he is “extremely honored” by his students’ gesture. He spent 22 years as a U.S. Air Force pilot, including assignments as a flight instructor, followed by another 22 years of teaching at the Prescott Campus.

“He had so much knowledge,” says Jeralds. “He loved mentoring flight instructors.”

Samuels also spent countless weekends leading practices for the university’s Golden Eagles Flight Team.

“He was so dedicated, and as a result, we wanted to do our best,” says Pribyl, a former flight team member and now senior vice president of aviation strategy and programs at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “Dick was very much like a father figure to us,” she says.

Alexios Stavropoulos (’89, PC), also a former student of Samuels and now a captain at United Airlines, says, “He wasn’t shy in telling you that you were screwing up and why you were screwing up. But the level of his standards is what we all aspired to reach.”

Embry-Riddle Professor Emeritus Mike Polay, who once shared an office with Samuels, says the chief flight instructor challenged his students and made them responsible for their actions and inactions, with an emphasis on safety.

“Dick wouldn’t take excuses, and he’d call them on it,” Polay says. “He was tough — but he cared.”

Decades later, the lessons that Samuels taught them are ever present, his students say.

“There hasn’t been another instructor who has had a more enduring and fundamental impact on my flying,” says Pribyl.

Samuels made students want to perform their best, Jeralds says, and when a student got his approval, it felt like winning the Olympics.

“I learned from him that no matter how good a pilot you were, you could always be better,” Jeralds says. “That is what he gave all of us.”