Two Fairmont State alumni will continue to support a scholarship for football players over the next five years.
Jim Ashton, a general partner for NewSpring Capital, a Philadelphia-based private equity firm, and his wife, Debbie (Turney), have committed to continuing the Jim & Debbie Ashton Football Scholarship. The annual impact scholarship supports freshmen football players from Western Pennsylvania who are majoring in business, computer science, engineering, entrepreneurship or information systems.
“The support of Jim and Debbie Ashton will have immeasurable impact,” Mirta M. Martin, president of Fairmont State University, said. “Our student athletes work hard, and the Jim & Debbie Ashton Football Scholarship rewards them for them for their diligence and passion, both on the field and in the classroom. This gift is also a reminder of the kind of people that make up our Falcon Family – alumni like the Ashtons who not only remember their precious years here on our cozy hilltop campus, but who also feel a responsibility to give back and lift up another generation of Falcons.”
“Debbie and I both enjoyed our time at Fairmont State University and have always looked for ways to give back,” Jim said. “I was once a recipient of a football scholarship and know how important it was for me at the time.”
Ashton said the couple strongly encourages giving to support Fairmont State students and believe it is especially important to give back when times are tough.
“There have been many successful graduates of Fairmont State,” Jim said. “Many live in different parts of the country now, but their journey started at the beautiful campus on the hill.”
Jim and Debbie both graduated in 1980 with business degrees, which he said was key to obtaining their first jobs out of college.
“We were able to draw upon lessons learned in the classroom and apply them to the real world,” Jim said.
Debbie grew up in Fairmont, not far from campus. Jim grew up in Brownsville, a coal mining town in Western Pennsylvania.
“I thought it was a beautiful campus and was excited to continue my athletic career with the football team,” Jim said. “After a few seasons, our class won the conference championship in my senior year.”
Coach Dave Ritchie was an early mentor for Jim both on and off the field. In the fall of 2019, Jim was able to visit with Ritchie during a 40th reunion of the 1979 conference championship team.
“Other than meeting each other, we both made lifelong friends that we met at Fairmont State University,” Jim said.
“We are so honored that Jim and Debbie have decided to continue their support of our Fairmont State football program and our exceptional student athletes,” said Fairmont State Foundation President Julie Cryser.
Tyler Lucas is not your typical pilot. You’ll often find the Fairmont State University alum flying around the East Coast in a Lear Jet. Sometimes, he has corporate clients on board. Other times, he has organs – hearts, kidneys, lungs, livers – nestled safely on dry ice inside a Coleman brand cooler. That’s because he’s rushing the much-needed organs to help save the lives of sick patients at nearby hospitals.
“It’s just like flying any other passenger,” says the humble 25-year-old who still lives in Fairmont. “The most rewarding part of my current job is just knowing that people are receiving these organs that they waited on lists for. I have a hand in making sure that people are getting the healthcare they need, especially when there's something as important as internal organs.”
Lucas, a native West Virginian, always knew he wanted to be a pilot. He enrolled in Fairmont State’s Aviation Technology Program at just the right time, as there is a shortage of pilots in America. “The numbers are staggering,” says Jason Vosburgh, an assistant professor of Aviation Technology at Fairmont and chair of the department. “The last number I heard was around 800,000 – so there is an opportunity to fill this need.”
It’s a recent Sunday afternoon and Vosburgh is giving a tour of the school’s hangar near the North Central West Virginia Airport. The 48-year-old looks the part of a pilot straight out of central casting: a bomber jacket over a white shirt and striped tie, perfectly coiffed hair. He climbs into a twin-engine Piper Aztec, one of seven planes owned by the university, each one emblazoned with the Fairmont State University logo.
After around 10 hours of flight time, students are already getting the keys to fly these planes by themselves. “It’s fantastic seeing the families come from all the counties in West Virginia,” Vosburgh says. “You see Mom and Dad, their eyes sparkle when they know that their son or daughter are going to be flying a $400,000 airplane in the next few weeks. You have your dream and we can create the reality for that dream. We live vicariously through our students.”
Vosburgh moved from California six years ago because he saw something special in this part of Appalachia. “West Virginia is the aviation state,” he says matter-of-factly, noting that Chuck Yeager, a West Virginian, was the first pilot to break the sound barrier. “The personality of the people in West Virginia is self-determinative, confident, stand on your own two feet, self-sufficient. That is aviation culture. And the people here are some of the greatest pilots."
His goal is to help shepherd the department to the next level. “With aviation, you never arrive,” explains Vosburgh. “There’s always something more to learn. There’s another airplane, there’s another airport, there’s another complexity. There’s another level.”
For alumni like Lucas, the degree is their ticket to freedom. A career in aviation means you can be based anywhere. “It’s easy to commute when you’re going Mach .78,” Vosburgh says of the nearly 600 miles per hour speed. “You can fly anywhere in the country and you can live here in West Virginia. It’s like telecommuting, but we go really fast.” The aviation industry is desperate for pilots and, straight out of college, students can secure jobs earning upwards of $100,000 on the ground (airport management) or in the air (commercial pilot).
Asked what he would tell potential students considering a degree in aviation, Lucas is quick with a reply. “Do it and don’t look back because it’s the greatest career on the face of the planet,” he says. “I cannot stress how awesome this job is.”