Chris Kikkert and her son, Connor, spend their days on the Washtenaw Community College campus. (Photo by Jessica Bibbee)

Chris Kikkert and her son, Connor, spend their days on the Washtenaw Community College campus. (Photo by Jessica Bibbee)

 

A pilot’s journey includes an important layover at the WCC Children’s Center

After a career as an airline pilot, Chris Kikkert, 45, redefines the meaning of “non- traditional student” at Washtenaw Community College.

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But she doesn’t come to campus alone. Her 4-year-old son, Connor, also spends his days on campus at the WCC Children’s Center. And as with most everyone who begins a second career at mid-life, Kikkert’s story is one of discovery — a journey that began with Connor’s birth in 2012. When he was born, Kikkert knew that her life as a pilot was about to alter course.

As a professional pilot for Northwest Air-lines and later as a corporate pilot, 19-day rotations were common — a lifestyle that didn’t align with raising her newborn son. Connor was born with a congenital heart condition that would require three heart surgeries by the age of three. The airline schedule just didn’t work with the need to be with her son.

Given a chance to pursue a second career, Kikkert tapped into her gift for navigating spaces and decided on Interior Design. With a scholarship to the Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) in Grand Rapids, Kikkert also needed to navigate the challenge of staying near the hospital in Ann Arbor, where her son was still receiving care at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Learning of her son’s need for medical care and rehab for the next year, KCAD extended her scholarship to the fall semester of 2017 and encouraged her to attend WCC during her son’s rehab in Ann Arbor.

Of the 20 merit-based scholarships awarded by KCAD, three recipients came from WCC, including Kikkert. “The reason Kendall (administrators) speak so highly of WCC is because they’ve seen the work that comes out of the art department at WCC.” said Kikkert.

“Money couldn’t buy a better education and better day care. We’re in good hands and we’re so blessed that we can be a part of this.”

Kikkert once flew for Herman Miller, a major manufacture of office furniture and home furnishings based in Zeeland.

When she completes her bachelor degree in Interior Design, she sees her journey coming full circle. From flying for a furniture design company to designing space for furniture. For now, knowing that Connor is both safe and engaged allows Kikkert to focus on her studies.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and Kikkert credits WCC’s Children’s Center for being “the village.”

“I wouldn’t be able to go back to school,” says Kikkert, “if it wasn’t for the Children’s Center at WCC.”

Like a true pilot, she has her sights set high — for her next career and her son Connor’s future.

By Jessica Bibbee

Staff, Public Relations