Mark Willette arrived at Jacksonville University two years ago after a career in the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he graduated from flight school and became an attack pilot.
He then went to work for Eastern Airlines, Trump Shuttle and, finally, US Airways.
While piloting for Trump Shuttle, Willette’s passengers included Donald Trump, former President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Sen. Ted Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., among other notables.
Willette left the cockpit after 35 years of flying to become an academic adviser at JU. He has since settled into a fitting role in JU’s Aviation program, where he provides student support in the areas of advising, enrollment assistance and retention.
A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Willette and his wife, Deirdre, live in Fernandina Beach.
Step into Willette’s office in JU’s Davis College of Business and you’ll see maps – lots of them. Willette says he has maps on his wall because a pilot’s office is the cockpit. Next, you’ll see an airline captain figurine that his wife gave him when he was promoted to captain in the airline business. Finally, you’ll notice the model planes that Willette says helped him motivate his airline flight students.
Today, providing encouragement remains a big part of Willette’s job. He is JU’s primary contact for prospective students considering an education in aviation studies.
“I help steer them in the right direction,” he said.
He says his job involves “bringing young bright students to the university and helping them get what they want in a career.”
Both of Willette’s sons graduated from the aviation program. One flies around the world teaching English as a second language; the other is a Navy pilot. One of the many maps on Willette’s office wall helps him track the ever-changing location of his son in Asia.
When Willette worked for commercial airlines, he observed the Jacksonville University aviation graduates’ knowledge first-hand. “They were exceptionally good pilots,” he said.
Willette says a key component of JU’s aviation curriculum is training with a state-of-the-art flight simulator, which helps prepare future pilots in real-world aircraft knowledge and safety.
“The mission of the Jacksonville University Davis Aviation Center is to produce professional aviators and aviation managers possessing the leadership and professional skills necessary to sustain safety and profitability in global aviation,” he said. “The Davis Aviation Center achieves this mission with a world-class curriculum that sufficiently equips students to thrive professionally and financially as global aviation evolves.”