When Stephen Blanchette Jr. (’86) left his home in Brooklyn, New York, to study aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott, Arizona, campus in the early 1980s, he admits it was a bit of a culture shock.
“On a plane with about 12 people coming into Prescott for a landing, I don’t think I saw any buildings more than three stories high,” Blanchette says. “Then we had torrential rains the first year that flooded some buildings, knocked out the power and made it muddy all over campus.”
Now the director of software systems and acquisition at The Aerospace Corporation, Blanchette ended up changing his major to computer science. But he says he never regretted his choice to attend Embry-Riddle, and his experiences there ultimately led to his success in a career that merges his interests in computers and aerospace.
“It really has been a combining of both of my loves,” he says.
To help students like him, Blanchette recently made a planned gift to the university to continue funding the Blanchette Scholarship for Excellence in Computing Sciences, which already has benefited Embry-Riddle Prescott students majoring in computer science since 2005.
“I went through about every dollar I had to get my education, so I know it is not easy,” he says.
Blanchette also gives back to Embry-Riddle as an inaugural member of the College of Security and Intelligence Philanthropy Council.
“I was happy to be able to step up,” he says. “It really fits in with my overall philosophy of giving back to the university. I owe a lot of my success to what I learned there.”
In recognition of that success, on Feb. 1, 2021, Blanchette received the Robert H. Herndon Black Image Award, which honors the legacy of its namesake, a pioneering Black engineer at The Aerospace Corporation. The award recognizes employees for their outstanding work in support of the corporation’s mission, laudable humanitarian efforts and distinguished personal achievement.
Blanchette jokes that he has come a long way from his first computer programming experience, using punch cards. But he also remembers being the student who had to apply for a bunch of financial aid and loans to pay for his education.
“I wanted to help those students who came after me,” Blanchette says. “I would like to see students continue to have the opportunities to have an education and contribute to the field, get their degree and plant the idea that is important to give back.”