PENSACOLA, Fla. – On Friday, July 13th, in the atrium of the National Naval Aviation Museum, complete with a 4-ship of the Blue Angels (the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team) suspended overhead, 50 Wisconsin students joined 130 other students from across the U.S. for National Flight Academy graduation.
Ashley Furniture sponsored 50 middle and high school students from Wisconsin this year to attend the program, covering their program tuition and travel expense totaling more than $73,500.
The week-long “deployment” at sea is geared to inspire interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) coursework and careers. Participants stay in a multi-story facility, adjacent to the National Aviation Museum, where they experience theme-park style thrills surrounded by advanced technology, flight simulators, and virtual reality games that ignite imagination and encourage learning.
During the program, students were immersed in life as a naval aviator aboard a modern aircraft carrier, planning and conducting humanitarian missions while living aboard the simulated aircraft carrier, “USS Ambition.” These missions were a test to their mental agility, preparedness, and communication skills, and demonstrated the importance of teamwork and goal completion. After planning the missions, they provided air traffic control for the simulated jets their fellow students were flying.
Following an action-packed week, Lieutenant General Duane Thiessen, USMC (retired), President and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, hosted a graduation ceremony to celebrate the students’ major accomplishments. Ashley’s Chief Digital Officer, Chris Wantlin, joined as the guest speaker.
“We’re thrilled to provide students in our area this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to the National Flight Academy in Florida,” said Ron Wanek, Founder and Chairman, Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. “This experience provides real-life takeaways that will assist them in the classroom and prepare them for their future careers.”
Ashley and the Wanek family have contributed millions of dollars in the area of education, particularly in support of STEM programs and advanced manufacturing. Additionally, the Wanek family has also provided more than 2,000 scholarships during the past ten years to help offset the escalating costs of higher education. Each year, Ashley awards more than 100 scholarships to children of Ashley Furniture employees.

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