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Embry-Riddle's History

Aviation and Embry-Riddle: The Lifelong Partnership

In 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright made history with their sustained, controlled flight of a powered aircraft. Only a few short years later, the advent of regular passenger service and the start of World War I combined to produce a dynamic new industry to meet the demands of commercial and military aviation.

Unlike many other developments at the end of the Industrial Revolution, aviation required a special education — learning how to fly, learning about safety and weather, and learning about engines — from skilled maintenance to the outer limits of performance.

The need for trained pilots and mechanics quickly led to the establishment of a new type of school, one focused totally on aviation. In the beginning, these organizations were often a combination of airplane dealership, airmail service, flight training center, and mechanic school. The original Embry-Riddle operations fit that mold precisely.

On Dec. 17, 1925, exactly 22 years after the historic flight of the Wright Flyer, barnstormer John Paul Riddle and entrepreneur T. Higbee Embry founded the Embry-Riddle Company at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, Ohio. The following spring the company opened the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation, coinciding with the implementation of the Air Commerce Act of 1926, which required, for the first time, the certification and medical examination of pilots.

Within three years the school had become a subsidiary of AVCO, the parent of American Airlines. Embry-Riddle remained dormant during most of the 1930s, mirroring the casualties of the Great Depression, and the Lunken Airport operation was phased out. By the end of the decade, however, World War II erupted in Europe and the demand for skilled aviators and mechanics grew significantly. Embry-Riddle’s second life was about to begin.

In South Florida, Embry-Riddle opened several flight-training centers and quickly became the world’s largest aviation school. Allied nations sent thousands of fledgling airmen to the Embry-Riddle centers at Carlstrom, Dorr, and Chapman airfields to become pilots, mechanics, and aviation technicians. Some 25,000 men were trained by Embry-Riddle during the war years.

After the war, under the leadership of John and Isabel McKay, Embry-Riddle expanded its international outreach while strengthening its academic programs.

With Jack R. Hunt as president, in 1965 Embry-Riddle consolidated its flight, ground school, and technical training programs in one location by moving northward to Daytona Beach, Florida. This move, which proved to be a moment of singular importance, was made possible by Daytona Beach civic leaders who donated time, money, and the use of personal vehicles. The relocation signaled the rebirth of Embry-Riddle and the start of its odyssey to world-class status in aviation higher education.

In 1968, Embry-Riddle was accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award degrees at the associate, bachelor, and master levels, and in 1970 changed its name from “Institute” to “University.” Also in 1970, centers were established at U.S. military aviation bases to serve the educational needs of active-duty military personnel.

In 1978, under President Hunt’s leadership, Embry-Riddle opened a western campus in Prescott, Arizona, on the 511-acre site of a former college. With superb flying weather and expansive grounds, the Prescott Campus has been an outstanding companion to the University’s eastern campus in Daytona Beach.

Continuing Hunt’s legacy was Lt. Gen. Kenneth L. Tallman, president of Embry-Riddle for five years. He came to the University after a distinguished 35-year military career that included service as superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Under Tallman’s leadership, a school of graduate studies and the electrical engineering degree program were introduced. He led the University into research with the addition of the engineering physics degree program. He also developed stronger ties between Embry-Riddle and the aviation/aerospace industry.

Dr. Steven M. Sliwa led the University from 1991 through 1998. Sliwa, the University’s third president, is best known for creating an entrepreneurial environment and for developing strategic partnerships with industry. These partnerships included a joint venture with FlightSafety International; a partnership with Cessna Aircraft Company; a technology alliance with IBM; and an exclusive educational partnership with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. He also spearheaded a $100+ million capital expansion program, which included an $11.5 million congressional line-item appropriation. In addition, new academic and research programs were created at his direction to respond to structural changes in the industry while increasing market share in the University’s core programs.

Embry-Riddle’s fourth president, Dr. George H. Ebbs, led the University from 1998 through 2005. During his tenure the annual college guide produced by U.S. News & World Report consistently ranked Embry-Riddle’s Aerospace Engineering program No. 1 in the nation among schools without doctoral programs, a ranking the University has achieved every year since 2001. Embry-Riddle’s program in Aerospace Engineering is the largest in the nation, as are its programs in Aeronautical Science and Engineering Physics.

Under the leadership of Dr. Ebbs, a new graduate degree program in Safety Science was introduced, as well as new undergraduate degree programs in Computer Science, Global Security and Intelligence Studies, Mechanical Engineering, Software Engineering, and Space Physics. In addition, major construction was initiated at the Daytona Beach and Prescott residential campuses.

Dr. Ebbs presided over three military contracts worth a total of more than $57 million. Under those contracts Embry-Riddle provides aviation-related degree programs to the U.S. military in Europe; trained Air Force, Air National Guard, and international flight safety officers at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M.; and trained Air Force pilots at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Dr. John P. Johnson served the Universtiy as the fifth President. He previously served as Embry-Riddle’s Interim President and as Provost and Chief Academic Officer. Before joining Embry-Riddle, he was the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Texas A&M University, Texarkana, and served as Dean at the Medical University of South Carolina and at Northern Kentucky University.

Under Dr. Johnson’s leadership, Embry-Riddle expanded its research activity; developed a global strategy to take its aviation and aerospace expertise overseas; and  launched Ph.D. degree programs in Aerospace Engineering, Aviation, Aviation Business Administration, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering Physics, Human Factors, and Mechanical Engineering. Working with the FAA and industry leaders, Dr. Johnson positioned the University as one of the nation’s leaders in the development of next-generation air traffic management technology.

Dr. John R. Watret was named Interim President of Embry-Riddle in 2015, after serving as Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

As Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Watret provided leadership for all operational aspects of the Daytona Beach, Prescott, and Worldwide campuses, as well as Information Technology, Institutional Research, Strategic Planning and Analysis, and the Singapore Campus. 

Watret was named Chancellor of the Worldwide Campus in 2010. As Chancellor, he oversaw all academic and operational functions of the campus, which is composed of more than 150 classroom locations in the United States and internationally, and provides services for more than 23,000 students annually through both traditional and online instruction.

Watret joined Embry-Riddle in 1989 and over the years has held several management and faculty positions at the Daytona Beach Campus, including associate provost, associate chancellor, associate dean of academics, and full professor of mathematics. In the early 1990s, he took a brief leave of absence to serve as head of the department of mathematics for Texas A&M’s branch campus in northern Japan. In 2006, Watret became the associate vice president and chief academic officer for the Worldwide Campus.

During his tenure as a faculty member in the mathematics department, Watret was known as a dedicated and skilled instructor and was recognized by his peers with Embry-Riddle’s Outstanding Teaching Award in 1996. He has authored several publications and participated as a lead faculty member, developing the Integrated Curriculum in Engineering (ICE) program through a grant from the Boeing Company.

Watret continues to be active both nationally and internationally in the aviation industry and serves as a board member for the UF Online Campus as appointed by the Florida Board of Governors. He has also served as a member of an onsite re-affirmation visiting team for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Additionally, Watret serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Asia Ltd. in Singapore and is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (FRAeS).

Dr. Karen A. Holbrook was named Interim President of Embry-Riddle in 2016, after serving as a member of the Board of Trustees and the Board of Trustees Executive Committee for the university.

Dr. Holbrook has been a higher education consultant and the Senior Advisor to the President at the University of South Florida, where she was previously the Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation, and then Senior Vice President for Global Affairs and International Research. Dr. Holbrook served as the President of the Ohio State University from 2002 to 2007 and was previously the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at the University of Georgia; Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Florida; and Associate Dean for Research and professor of biological structure and medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

She has served on the boards of the American Association for the Advancement of Science(AAAS), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the American Council of Education (ACE), the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (now APLU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), and Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

Dr. Holbrook has also participated on advisory panels and councils for the National Institutes of Health (NIAMS) and was a member of the Advisory Committee to the immediate past Director of the NIH. She currently serves on the boards of the Institute of International Education (IIE), CRDF Global, Bio-Techne, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), and is the immediate past board chair for Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU). Earlier in her career, Dr. Holbrook was a biomedical researcher and NIH MERIT Award investigator.