It runs in the family

An Air Defense Artillery Association scholarship helps support this student's aspirations

Taylor Wilson turned 21 during the COVID-19 crisis, but that didn’t get her spirits down.

Her family made sure to mark the occasion in their hometown of Panama City, Florida, with a special space theme. She was surprised with a rocket ship balloon, a birthday cake made to look like a galaxy and a day at an open beach with proper social distancing in place.

This space-themed celebration was fitting for a young woman who plans to work for NASA one day. It was a celebration for both her birthday and her internship program. 

“The galaxy space cake was kind of nerdy, but it suited the internship celebration purposes, and that's something big that (we) celebrated because it actually feels like more of an accomplishment than turning 21,” Wilson said.

Wilson is a 2019 recipient of the Air Defense Artillery Association scholarship, which is funded in partnership with Raytheon Missiles & Defense, one of four businesses that form Raytheon Technologies. Wilson majors in aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Although her classes may have shifted to online studies during the pandemic, her drive has not slowed down. She has kept her Dean’s List grade point average of 3.64.  

Wilson found out she won the scholarship last summer, when she was volunteering as an intern for Alaska Missions, an outreach program to improve the quality of life of Alaskans. Wilson credits the scholarship with being able to afford to stay the summer to do the service work. She led, organized and managed teams of up to 60 volunteers during four weekly sports camps and helped with community service projects.

“Without the Air Defense Artillery Association Scholarship, I would not have been able to afford to volunteer for the entire summer,” Wilson said. “We ran a sports camp at a local school to alleviate stress on working parents and encourage underprivileged kids.”

She took part in a project called Salmon Frenzy, where teams from around the country assist Alaskans who are fishing for salmon by providing food, drinks, first aid, hand sanitizer and a kids’ club for the people on the beaches. 

“It’s a phenomenal way to reach the locals and give them hope to get through the harsh winters,” Wilson said.

Volunteering is part of her well-rounded college life, as is sports. She expects to graduate in 2021, and has been playing soccer for her university since August of 2017. The scholarship helps her stay in soccer and keep doing service work.  

 “After college, I plan to pursue my master’s in Business Administration, and then I would like to be the first in my family to earn a Ph.D.,” she said.  

Wilson is following her father’s example of service. He is a lieutenant colonel serving in the U.S. Army in the air defense field. He gave her the nudge she needed to apply for the scholarship, since it is awarded specifically to children of air defenders – active, National Guard and retired – who are seniors in high school. 

And what an honor it is, according to Wilson: “I would like to thank every air defender and their families for their great service out of love for our country and freedom.” 

The announcement for two 2020 scholarships is expected in June.