Oak Forest teen’s career aspirations take flight
BY CHERYL DANGEL BARTOLINI Correspondent March 21, 2014 9:22AM
Brett Staehlin, of Oak Forest, plans to become a pilot. He will major in aeronautical engineering at the University of Illinois. | Supplied photo by Cheryl Harris Sumida
Updated: April 25, 2014 6:02AM
Brett Staehlin, a senior at Oak Forest High School, finds it hard to stay grounded. He wants to fly, and as graduation looms closer and closer, his dream is becoming more attainable.
Staehlin, 18, wants to major in aeronautical engineering.
“I just feel like there is no greater idea than flying a plane,” he said.
His interest in planes was sparked as a kid.
“When I was little, remote-controlled planes caught my interest, and I have great memories of shooting off model rockets with my dad,” he said.
There has never been any wavering; Staehlin is a man who is certain of his path.
“Math and physics have always come easy to me. That is just how my family is wired,” he said. “Engineering seemed like the right path for me. As soon as I thought aeronautical engineering was an option, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”
His dream job is to work as a pilot for a commercial airline or perhaps the military.
“Whatever I can get. As long as I’m working with planes, I’ll be happy,” he said.
He applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“My family appreciates the armed services, and I think that is a very great way for someone to give back, since I am a healthy person and I can give back, especially to my country. It would be fantastic to go there,” he said.
Staehlin, however, ultimately chose the University of Illinois.
With his college decision made, Staehlin is busy wrapping up his senior year. At school, he works as a Bengal tutor, and is captain of the varsity soccer and volleyball teams, along with being a member of pep club, National Honor Society and Scholastic Bowl.
Outside of school, he volunteers at Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS), at a homeless shelter in Oak Lawn. He has racked up more than 150 hours running a “cook team.” On the first Sunday of every month, Staehlin and his team wake up early and make breakfast for those who stay at the overnight shelter; they even clean up afterward.
“My parents always told me, ‘If you can give back, you should,’ ” he said. “So I am absolutely willing to do what I can. If these people who have so little can say ‘thank you’ and ‘have a nice day’ to me, then I can do whatever I can for them. They are so impressive and I learn so much from the people in the shelter who can have a smile on their face when their lives are so bleak.”
Staehlin said his parents, Peggy and Kurt Staehlin, of Oak Forest, are his role models.
“They have always tried to lead me in the right direction,” he said. “My dad went to school for accounting but quit his job to open his own Ace Hardware in Dolton. He had the guts to quit a steady job and go into the hardware business. That is fantastic to me. He is incredibly impressive and showed a lot of courage.
“No matter what I end up doing, he’ll tell me to do what I want to do because that is what he did and it worked out.
“My mom is president of the state PTA right now and she didn’t have to do that,” Staehlin said. “She knew she could help and gave up a lot of her time and does so much in a volunteer position. It amazes me how much they both can do.”
His monthly visits to PADS keep Staehlin motivated.
“It really humbles you,” he said. “It gets to you if you volunteer. You see these people who have so little and they can still wake up and go to a job interview and do something way harder than study or do a few math problems. It is not hard to stay motivated when you can see that they can stay motivated.”