Gala to showcase enhanced relationship between WMU, Air Zoo

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
Photo of children looking at a spacesuit exhibit.

A museum employee talks to children about an Air Zoo exhibit.

KALAMAZOO—Signaling a stronger new relationship between Michigan's premier aviation entities, Western Michigan University will be the presenting sponsor for the Air Zoo's May 16 Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards Gala and Dinner.

The inaugural benefit gala, set for 5:30 to 9 p.m., will honor science and arts innovation shown by high school students and K-12 teachers in a 12-county southwest Michigan area. The event also will continue a long statewide tradition of inducting new members into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, which is housed at the Air Zoo in Portage, Mich. The Friday, May 16, event at the museum will combine those two sets of honors with an evening of dancing, dining and a silent auction, which will include unique, one-of-a-kind items from the Air Zoo archives.

Tickets for the event are $100 each, and reservations are required by Monday, May 12. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Air Zoo's growing portfolio of hands-on science and technology educational programs that impact students of all ages across southwest Michigan.

Partnership underscores University values, history

WMU's sponsorship of the gala, says WMU President John M. Dunn, is a reflection of the University's 75-year history and international reputation in aviation as well as WMU's commitment to the core values the Air Zoo is promoting with its decision to honor students and teachers in the disciplines known collectively as STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"Aviation, the STEM disciplines and the fine arts are central to our University's academic core," Dunn says. "We've been talking with the Air Zoo's new director, Troy Thrash, about a closer relationship between the museum and WMU, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch that partnership."

Thrash, who previously directed and helped build the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, Pa., says the new annual awards initiative is meant to boost the local focus on careers that will position southwest Michigan for growth.

"The Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards will play a major role in encouraging local students and educators to embrace STEAM—science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics—disciplines," says Thrash. "Ultimately, this will ensure we have a robust technical workforce and a thriving local economy for years to come."

WMU's colleges of Aviation and Engineering and Applied Sciences will both have a presence at the May 16 gala. Moving forward, there will be a permanent College of Aviation presence at the Air Zoo, and the college and museum will collaborate on a variety of initiatives.

"We want everyone who visits the Air Zoo to realize one of the nation's top collegiate aviation programs is here at WMU, says aviation college Dean Dave Powell. "And we expect our visitors to leave us with a full briefing on the caliber of the aviation museum that we consider a partner."

About the Air Zoo

The three-decades-old Air Zoo has grown from its start as a museum hangar with nine airplanes to a world-class aerospace and science education center that houses more than 60 rare aircraft and spacecraft, a number of interactive science and aviation exhibits, and cutting-edge educational programs for people of all ages.

Since 1987, the Air Zoo also has been home to the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame, which honors men and women who have made significant contributions to the state's aviation fields. WMU's College of Aviation was honored by the MAHF in 2008 for its more than seven decades of contributions to aviation.

For more information, including ticket information for the Science Innovation Hall of Fame Awards Gala and Dinner, contact the Air Zoo's Sandi Newcomer via email at or by phone at (269) 350-2829.  Additional information can be found on the Air Zoo’s website,