Embry-Riddle President Jack Hunt liked to come into his office on Saturdays and open his own mail. One such Saturday, he noticed a flyer from the U.S. Steelworkers organization advertising a “bargain” deal on a 500-plus acre property—the former home of Prescott College in Prescott, Ariz., which had gone bankrupt. A lienholder on the property, the organization was seeking an investor. Hunt immediately saw potential in the land and its collection of abandoned buildings as a prep school for students who struggled with academics; but that idea never took off. Instead, Hunt would find his answer in the overflow of flight students at the Daytona Beach Campus and the area’s 300-plus sunny flying days per year, a perfect combination resulting in a ready pool of aeronautical science applicants for the new campus.
The Prescott Plan
Trustee Emeritus John C. “Jay” Adams (HonDoc ‘08) remembers:
“We had so many flight students coming to Daytona, that we told them, ‘You can register for aeronautical science, but you won’t be able to fly until January; however, if you go to Prescott, you’ll be able to fly immediately.’ That’s how it really started and then we added engineering out there, and one thing and another.”
John Jenkins, now a tenured professor, was teaching mathematics part time at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus when he was hired as the first faculty member for the Prescott Campus. Arriving in the summer of 1978, he recalls opening the campus for its first class of 240 students, five of whom were women:
“It looked like a ghost town. We had all of eight faculty.”
Sarah Thomas, director of library services and a 35-year employee at the Prescott Campus, arrived in 1980.
“There were the little slump stone brick buildings that were inherited from the old Prescott College and everything was brown; there was no grass. But we had such a pride and a love for this little out-of-the-way place. It was a new endeavor, a new enterprise, and people wanted to be a part of it.”
Steve Kirsch (‘80, PC), now a pilot at United Airlines, was one of the first students to enroll at the new campus. He had spent one year at the Daytona Beach Campus and remembered how different Prescott was:
“You are in the desert; it’s dirty and dry. Then during orientation, the nurse says, ‘This is what you do if you get bit by a rattlesnake, a tarantula, a scorpion.’”
But he quickly fell in love with the area’s natural beauty and low-key lifestyle. He and friend Mike Honey (‘82, PC) started a rugby team that competed against other university members of the Arizona Rugby Union; and Kirsch ended up working at most of Prescott’s local restaurants and bars to support himself through school.
“There was no liquor license, so you couldn’t drink a beer on campus. So we had keggers. We would get a keg, go off somewhere and make a bonfire. And the most amazing thing was you’d look up and see every star you could imagine.”
Peg Billson (‘84, PC), president and CEO of BBA Aviation Aftermarket Services, remembers how the decision was made for her to attend the Prescott Campus.
“I’m graduating from high school in Maryland and it’s time for me to go to Embry-Riddle, and naturally Daytona Beach is a lot closer to Maryland than Prescott, Arizona. I argued with my parents about going to Florida over Arizona for months. Then my dad came back from a business trip in Daytona Beach over spring break (in the 1970s!). He walked through the door, pointed at me and said, ‘You are going to Arizona!’ Prescott just fit me like a glove.”