Dick and Betsy DeVos are philanthropists in a variety of fields. They donate heavily to charities involved in education, culture, the arts, health, and others. Through the DeVos Family Foundation, they have donated over $138 million.
In 2006, they donated $12.5 million for the construction of a children’s hospital in Grand Rapids founded by Dick’s parents, Helen and Richard, who was CEO and founder of Amway.
He has also been deeply involved in the effort to prevent the suburbanization of Grand Rapids. He formed the Grand Action with others to push for development of the city, which successfully led to the DeVos Place Convention, the Grand Rapids City Market, the Van Andel Arena, and Michigan State University’s medical school.
In 2010, Dick, a licensed pilot, put his skills to work and founded a public school designed to attract young people interested in flying. The school is located at Gerald R. Ford International Airport and is tuition-free as are charter schools and public schools.
Enrollment has grown from 80 in 2010 to 600 in 2017. They come from seven counties. Some travel long distances by public bus and one spends the week in Grand Rapids.
The school has become quite popular, and a lottery may be held if too many students apply. The per-pupil cost to the state was $7500 in 2017. DeVos himself donated over $7 million.
The curriculum includes flying lessons, plane maintenance, electronics, aerospace engineering, computer science, robotics, as well as traditional courses such as history, mathematics, foreign language, and literature.
“But if we get them inspired by looking at airplanes and slip them a high-quality education while they’re not looking, all the better, right?” says DeVos. He also has said that the school being located at the airport is very important. “We felt it was important that kids are reminded daily about the possibilities in life. Planes coming and going and people traveling to other parts of the world. Their futures could be a part of that.”
DeVos is also using his aviation expertise as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s civilian advisory board, to which he was appointed by President Donald Trump. The board makes recommendations to management on regulatory issues, policy, and more. At the same time, Betsy was appointed US Secretary of Education by the president as well.
DeVos is certified to fly helicopters, single-engine planes, and jets. Jim Gill, CEO of Ford Airport, says of DeVos, “He has deep roots in aviation as a pilot and he is an outstanding partner with our airport. He will bring strong leadership, skills, and industry insight to the FAA.”
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