Logo: University of Southern California

2006 Valedictorian Kellen Sick On His Way to an Air Force Career

May 12, 2006 —
His dream of becoming a fighter pilot has kept Kellen Sick grounded all of his life.  It’s also kept the Viterbi School valedictorian on a very deliberate and disciplined trajectory to the Air Force.

Now, with his USC aerospace engineering degree in hand, Sick will be commissioned — on commencement day — a lieutenant in the Air Force and report to Beale Air Force Base in Northern California in the fall.  Oh, and he’s getting married somewhere in there, too.

Sick, a member of USC’s Air Force ROTC unit, a trustee scholar and an undergraduate research scholar, has been an exemplary student and role model throughout his four years at USC.  He says there weren’t many low points during his undergraduate years; most of them were high points, peppered with a lot of growth and a lot of challenges.
Kellen Sick, valedictorian, earned his bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering.

“I kind of have that outlook on life anyway, that everything is a challenge, so the challenge at USC was the grind of getting through a rigorous engineering program,” he says.  “On the flip side of that, the challenge also led to my best experiences of being in the classroom. 

“Over four years, you build a camaraderie, you get to know all the teachers, how they teach, what everyone is going through to get all their work done and balance their schedules,” he says.  “That has been probably the most enjoyable, just learning about other people and having them shape me and me shape them through different experiences.”  
Sick probably came to the classroom with more life experiences than most of his classmates.  The son of a peripatetic Air Force cargo pilot, he’d lived all over the country, from Northern California, where he was born, to Oklahoma, Illinois, Delaware, northern Virginia and, for high school graduation, Virginia Beach, VA. 

Surprisingly, though, he hadn’t spent a lot of time flying, aside from “a few hours in a Cessna during college.” But growing up in a two-pilot household may have influenced his career choices.  His brother, an F-16 fighter pilot who has just completed his training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, is about to head out to Korea for his first operational assignment, Sick says. 

“Most of my flight experience has been in simulators,” he admits.  “There were simulators on all of the Air Force bases, so I spent a lot of time in them, just learning about flying.”

Sick is accustomed to leadership and making a difference, which probably has something to do with his desire to be “on the frontline of national defense.”  He served as commander of the Arnold Air Society, as well as wing commander of his ROTC Detachment unit, winning numerous local and national leadership and service awards from that group.

“The people who are making national defense happen are the fighter pilots,” says Sick, who was also a member of several engineering honorary societies and fraternities, as well as a member of USC’s nationally ranked men’s swim team. “That kind of a lifestyle and that kind of intensity is something that I’m really focused on.”

He’s not kidding. Shortly after commencement, Sick will be on his way to the Air Force base for his own commissioning.  A year from now, in May 2007, he’ll begin pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.  A year after that, he’ll be taking on his first operational assignment for the United States Air Force.
— Diane Ainsworth