Robert “Rob” Ewing (’94, DB) lives to give young men and women the experience of flight. The founder and director of the Aviation Academy at Admiral Farragut Academy, a private boarding and day school for grades K-12 in St. Petersburg, Fla., Ewing has flight trained at least 500 students since he started teaching there in 1998.
“That first time, for me, I felt connected, like I belonged there,” says Ewing of his first flight. “It was the control, the movement, that feeling of leaving the ground. Obviously, there was the adrenalin rush and the excitement of it, but it was more like nothing else mattered. There were no other problems. It was wonderful, and it’s felt the same ever since. I’ve never lost that feeling.”
It’s a feeling Ewing wants others to have, and he’s dedicated his adult life to that end. Shortly after experiencing his first flight, he moved to Daytona Beach and enrolled in Embry-Riddle’s Aeronautical Science program. Earning his bachelor’s degree in 1994, as well as commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings, he got married and worked a few odd jobs before finding his true calling.
“I didn’t plan to become a teacher. Teaching found me,” he says. It was while working for the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches that he realized his passion for education. “Seeing that moment when learning takes place, that moment when they say, ‘Man, I didn’t know that,’ and then they suddenly realize now they do know it; you can’t put a price on it.”
Aligning with Embry-Riddle
At Admiral Farragut, Ewing quickly developed his other passion, aviation, into a full-blown program for the school. After earning his flight instructor certification in 1999, there was no stopping him. What started as one high school aviation elective at Admiral Farragut has turned into an aviation program that includes introductory flights at the middle-school level, a ground school with simulator training, and the opportunity to earn a private pilot’s certificate with up to 50 hours of flight time.
Since 2014, Admiral Farragut has participated in Embry-Riddle’s Gaetz Aerospace Institute, which allows junior and senior high school students to take college-credit courses taught by college-credentialed teachers, all while earning their high school diploma.
“I wanted to align my program with Embry-Riddle and create a seamless transition for my students,” Ewing says.
A steadfast advocate for his alma mater, over the years Ewing has helped many Admiral Farragut graduates enroll in flight and other programs at Embry-Riddle. “On average, Rob sends two students a year to Embry-Riddle, and we’ve had some years where as many as four have matriculated. That’s quite a significant number considering our senior classes average 65,” says Robert J. Fine, headmaster and president at Admiral Farragut. This year, eight Admiral Farragut graduates applied and were accepted into Embry-Riddle. As of May 2016, three had committed to attend.
“There are seven current students at Embry-Riddle who Rob taught and mentored at Admiral Farragut, and there are nearly 100 more he has encouraged in the past to come to the university, and who have since graduated,” says Bill Thompson, executive director of alumni relations at Embry-Riddle. “His continued support of the university and, more importantly, his support of young people entering the aviation industry is commendable.”
Liu Bolun, a senior at Embry-Riddle majoring in aerospace and occupational safety, and the safety officer for the Eagles Flight Team, is one of Ewing’s recruits. “When I was a sophomore at Admiral Farragut, Mr. Ewing was my Aero Science teacher,” Bolun says. “One day, I asked him if there was any university famous for an aviation degree. He straightly replied, ‘Embry-Riddle.’ He supported me 100 percent in attending Embry-Riddle. He did everything he could to expose me to aviation.”
For Ewing, that’s what it’s all about, giving students the aviation experience and watching it transform their lives. “It makes an impact on who they are and how they look at the world,” Ewing says. “Once a student solos and they come back, you can see the change in them: who they are, how they approach their peers and how they look at their future. They have a sense of accomplishment.”
Editor’s Note: Ewing was named Embry-Riddle’s 2015 Alumni Service Award recipient. He received the award on Oct. 9, 2015, at the Daytona Beach Campus’ Homecoming celebration.