West Windsor, N.J. -- While guests are enjoying a festive evening at the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Foundation’s Spring Into Student Success benefit gala on Friday, April 5, they will also be reminded of why they are there. Student leaders will be volunteering at the event and a video will recount the stories of just a few of MCCC’s grateful scholarship recipients.
Representing this year’s recipients at the event will be aviation student Cindy Treyger, of Medford, who is fulfilling a dream deferred since childhood. Now, as a returning adult student juggling school, flying and family life, she is earning her wings. This summer she will complete her associate degree in Aviation Flight Technology through MCCC and Infinity Flight Group, which is based at Trenton-Mercer Airport. (Infinity and its partner, Piedmont Airlines, are being honored at the gala with MCCC's Spirit of Education Award.)
Treyger already had a bachelor’s and a master’s degree when she enrolled at Mercer in 2017. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she joined the Air Force. They sent her not to flight school, but to language school to learn Russian.
“After nine amazing years as a Russian linguist, I got married, left the Air Force in 2006, and became a stay-at-home mom,” Cindy said. Her husband, Gennadiy, continued to serve as an interpreter and then a flight engineer in the Air Force while she focused her energies on raising their three sons, currently ages twelve, five and three.
The Treyger family moved to New Jersey five years ago when Gennadiy was assigned to McGuire Air Force Base. After a couple of years, he started taking flight lessons for fun, reigniting Cindy’s dream to be a pilot.
During a visit to the base, Cindy learned about Infinity Flight Group and its partnership with MCCC. She also realized that she could use the GI Bill benefits to help defray the cost of training.
“I finally decided to just go for it. I had about two weeks to register for classes, find childcare, and get my FAA medical clearance. All of those things seemed to just fall into place,” Cindy recalled.
Out of the approximately 100 aviation students currently enrolled at Mercer and flying with Infinity, Cindy is one of only six women. While she has heard of discrimination faced by female pilots, she says has never experienced it at Mercer.
In fact, she is happy to report that she has found a new kind of family in the aviation community. “I am very fortunate to have excellent professors and mentors in the aviation program. They are knowledgeable and helpful, as well as being understanding of the challenges faced by non-traditional students like me,” she said. “I’ve also made incredible friends who motivate me and inspire me. Mercer has become a place of encouragement and support.”
Cindy is all-in as a student, even this third time around. “I wanted to complete the program in full, taking the whole range of core classes including math, English and electives, most of which I completed online,” she said.
Gennadiy, who is now retired from the Air Force, has joined Cindy in MCCC's aviation program. To be a civilian pilot, he is required to earn his commercial credentials. They are the first married couple in the program.
The journey to becoming an accredited pilot comes in small steps. “First you shadow the instructor, then you fly together, and then the instructor shadows you,” Treyger explained. “Once you become an instructor, the flight hours add up quickly.”
By pursuing their training through a college program like Mercer’s, they must only compile 1250 hours of flight time for airline employment, not the 1500 required through non-college programs. This saves time and money.
And cost is a big factor. Even with GI Bill tuition funding, Cindy faces additional costs. Last fall, she was awarded two scholarships through the MCCC Foundation – the Timothy H. Burns Memorial Scholarship and the Sky’s the Limit Scholarship, which have helped to ease the financial burden on her family.
“I feel extremely fortunate to be the recipient of these generous scholarships,” Cindy said. “It’s inspiring to know that someone chose me to receive them. I hope that someday I am in a position to give back to another aspiring aviator.”
Treyger says that Mercer’s partnership with Infinity and Infinity’s agreement with Piedmont Airlines, a regional carrier for American Airlines, means that she could realize her career goal to fly for an airline in as little as a year after she completes her degree.
She recalls something that one of her former MCCC professors, Jerry Kuhl, once told her. “You go up in a plane and either you don't like it – or there is no cure. He was right. Once I got my hands on the controls, it stuck with me,” she said.
Clearly, Treyger is not looking for a cure. She is reaching for the sky – and credits MCCC with helping her get there.