The legacy of Nikki Kukwa lives on within the aeronautics program at Kent State.
Kukwa, who died from leukemia in 2006, was a senior aeronautics major at Kent State. She had recently completed her private pilot license in 2003 and the instrument ratings license in 2004. Kukwa was in the process of receiving her commercial pilot’s license when she died.
Last week, the university announced the creation of the Nikki Kukwa Endowed Scholarship for Women in Aeronautics. In order to successfully distribute the scholarship, the creators had to come up with $25,000. Isaac Nettey, senior academic program director of the division of aeronautics, said the scholarship was made possible with the help of Nikki’s father, Russ Kukwa.
“Her father and I discussed the possibility of doing some type of fundraiser, but with the support from his family, Russ was able to come up with the money and get things going,” Nettey said.
The money, which was presented to the university last week, will go into the bank and the interest that is accumulated will be used as the actual scholarship money. Next year will be the first annual scholarship presentation.
“Even with a mere 5 percent interest rate, we should be able to give a $1,250 scholarship out each year,” Nettey said.
The scholarship is open to all female Kent State aviation students who are at least juniors. They must have a 3.0 grade point average and demonstrate financial need. Applicants must also have a recommendation from the chairman of the division.
Nettey said Kukwa was a very proud young woman who demonstrated leadership throughout her time at Kent State. She helped start the Kent State’s “Women in Aviation: The Flying Black Squirrels,” a group that offers support to women in the program and was also a strong voice within the precision flight team.
“Nikki truly touched everybody here. She was a champion for women in aviation,” Nettey said.
Currently, the aeronautics program has about 35 women and a total of around 350 students. Nettey said Kukwa was very passionate about being part of such a small demographic.
“She was very particular in pointing out the ‘woman’ portion of the program,” Nettey said. “She wanted to make a difference within the program and promote it to other young women.”
In other efforts to keep the spirit of Nikki Kukwa alive, Kent State has partnered with the International Women’s Air and Space Museum to create a memorial aviation camp for high school girls.
The Nikki Kukwa Memorial Aviation camp is a three-day summer camp for high school girls and their mothers. This year, the camp will be held at Kent State July 10-13. The event will include activities such as flying air crafts, visits to the control tower and meetings with women in different facets of aviation. Participants will also receive information about university life in the areas of residence hall life, academics and financial aid. The camp is free of charge and is funded by the Alcoa Foundation, a large corporate nonprofit corporation.
Nettey said the announcement about the camp was made at an all-day college workshop for high schoolers held last week in Cleveland. He said nearly all of the 300 girls present at the workshop expressed interest in the camp.
“Hopefully with the new additions of both the scholarship and the camp we will be able to encourage young women to become involved in aeronautics and use Nikki’s memory as an inspiration,” Nettey said.
Contact regional campuses reporter Abby Laner at [email protected]