Terre Haute North Vigo High School junior Latyshia James wants to fly, and her dreams are about to take flight this summer with the help of a hard-won scholarship. 

The Air Force Junior ROTC cadet has been awarded a scholarship to participate in a private pilot license training program at one of six partnering universities.

James is one of only 120 AFJROTC cadets around the world, and the only Indiana cadet, to receive the scholarship from the program’s headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Ala.

More than 700 cadets applied, and there are more than 120,000 high school students enrolled in AFJROTC at over 880 high schools in the U.S and overseas. 

The scholarship covers transportation, room and board, academics and the flight hours required to potentially earn a private pilot license. The scholarship is valued at about $20,000. 

“I’m still wrapping my head around it,” James said Thursday. “I’m so excited about this opportunity.”

To qualify, she had to have a good GPA and she took a test described as “grueling “ by Col. Tom Greenlee, who heads up North’s program along with Josh Hall, chief master sergeant and instructor. Greenlee described the online test as a combination of SAT and Air Force officer qualifying test, and the three cadets who took it described it as the hardest test they’ve taken in their life.

“It speaks volumes about how smart she is,” Greenlee said. Her cumulative GPA is 3.9, she said.

The Flight Academy Scholarship Program is a new, Air Force-level initiative in collaboration with the commercial aviation industry to address the national civilian and military pilot shortage, according to a news release. AFJROTC has been charged by the Air Force Aircrew Crisis Task Force to bring back the “luster of aviation” to high school students and increase diversity in aviation fields. 

Those who participate in the program do not incur a military commitment to the Air Force or other branch of service, nor does completing the program guarantee acceptance into one of the military’s commissioning programs. 

James will spend seven to nine weeks this summer at one of six colleges: Auburn University, Auburn, AL; Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL; Kansas State University, Salina, KS; Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA; Purdue University; or University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND.

Her first choice is Purdue, but she doesn’t yet know where she’ll be assigned.

Her mom and cousins encouraged her to participate in the Junior ROTC program in high school, and it’s provided many opportunities, she said. While she’s never piloted a plane, her freshman year, she did fly as a passenger in a Cessna out of Terre Haute Regional Airport as part of the Junior ROTC program.

Her long-term plans are a career in the medical field and potentially serving in the Air Force, she said.

North principal Robin Smith praised James and the staff leading the AFJROTC program, Greenlee and Hall. The program “has opened so many doors for our kids,” she said.

The goal of the program, Greenlee said, is to get more people interested in aviation because of the shortage of national civilian and military pilots.

James has the potential to earn her private pilot license, if she successfully competes the summer program and everything goes as expected. 

Greenlee said he and Hall “have been delighted to work with [Cadet James] over last the few years; she is one of our shining stars.” Whatever career path she follows, “She has a bright future.”

 Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

Sue Loughlin has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star for more than 30 years. She covers general news with a focus on education.