'Improbable Ace'

Nathan Welch, a senior majoring in aviation technology and minoring in political science from Seal Beach, Calif., is realizing his dream of joining an elite group of U.S. Air Force pilots—a dream that nearly eluded him.

Flying in the face of adversity: With a resume chock full of exceptional academic, career and personal achievements, Nathan came up short by one key Air Force requirement: a passing eye exam. He couldn’t perceive colors up to Air Force standards for pilots. After failing the eye test nine times, he kept praying for a miracle. On try 10, he passed. Since then, for reasons no one can explain, he has passed four more times.

Really? You came all the way from southern California? “I came to Purdue for the flight program,” Welch says, naming the first of several reasons he picked Purdue in spite of the 2,100-mile distance. “The other campuses I looked at weren’t big-time campuses—they didn’t have a big-time college feel, or as much school pride, and they didn’t have as much to offer. I also liked the tradition here. And since I’ve been here, Purdue has shown me that I truly have unlimited potential.”

It’s not just about me: Determined to show his gratitude for everything he’s been given in life, Nathan, an Eagle Scout, Black Belt and president of Purdue’s Mortar Board honor society, plans to lead a life of service. “I’ve been given all this and I want to give back.”

All in the family: In a neighborhood close to his home in California, a series of parallel streets are named for highly regarded universities. The street names are Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Purdue.

By Amy Raley