Embry-Riddle Salutes Notable Alumni During Black History Month

Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Col. Alvin Drew and Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris
Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Col. Alvin Drew and Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris are just a few of the many notable alumni Embry-Riddle is celebrating this year during Black History Month. (Photos: Embry-Riddle)

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University takes pride in all its 160,000-plus alumni through the years. To celebrate Black History Month in February 2024, the university salutes some of our notable alumni who are driving positive change across the military, aviation, aerospace, research and transportation sectors.

Representing the ideals of service above self and professional achievement are these and many other accomplished alumni:

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. (’95)

The 21st chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, Brown serves as the principal military advisor to the U.S. president, the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council. Earlier in his career, Brown commanded the Pacific Air Forces and the air component of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Brown has commanded a fighter squadron, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, two fighter wings and U.S. Air Forces Central Command. He is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours, including 130 combat hours. (Embry-Riddle highlighted Brown’s career in this 2023 article, and his Air Force biography can be read online.)

Col. Alvin Drew (’95)

A former astronaut who flew two Space Shuttle missions, Drew is a retired U.S. Air Force command pilot. Drew was appointed by former U.S. President Barack Obama to the Air Force Academy’s Board of Visitors. He served as a NASA astronaut mission specialist from 2000 to 2011, flying two missions to space on the Space Shuttle Discovery (2011) and Endeavour (2007). He served as the Department of Defense liaison at NASA. Earlier, he was assistant director for Space and Aviation Security at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. An alumnus of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he joined the Air Force in 1984, served as a combat rescue pilot and retired from military service in 2010.

Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris (’87)

The first Black woman to attain a three-star rank in the U.S. Air Force, Harris retired as a pilot from United Airlines after 30 years. An experienced Boeing 747 pilot with more than 10,000 flight hours safely transporting passengers and cargo worldwide, Harris made history by becoming the first African American woman to command an Air Force operational flying squadron and served as the first woman inspector general of the Air Force. Her many recognitions have included the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with bronze hourglass, among others. (Read more Lt. Gen. Harris.)

Dr. Moriba Jah, Capt. Patrice Washington and Billy Nolen
Dr. Moriba Jah, Capt. Patrice Washington and Billy Nolen

Dr. Moriba Jah (’99)

An astrodynamicist and space environmentalist laying the foundation for a safe, prosperous and sustainable near-Earth space environment, Jah was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2022. His career trajectory after serving in the U.S. Air Force has hit the high points of aerospace, from being a spacecraft navigation engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to leading the Advanced Sciences and Technology Research Institute for Astronautics at the Air Force Research Lab. Currently, Jah is a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin. (Embry-Riddle’s “Lift” magazine celebrated him in 2023.)

Capt. Patrice Washington (’82)

The first Black woman captain of a major U.S. airline, Washington was the first Black woman to graduate from Embry-Riddle. After earning her degree, Washington worked for Trans Island Air and Bahamasair. In 1988, she moved to UPS, where she became one of only 11 Black women commercial pilots in the United States. In 1994, UPS promoted her to captain. (Read this 2022 profile article to learn more.)

Billy Nolen (’07)

From working as a military and commercial airline pilot to heading up safety programs at airlines in Australia and Canada, Nolen has spent more than 34 years advancing aviation safety. Starting as a pilot, he served in the U.S. Army, where he flew both airplanes and helicopters while working as a safety officer. In 1989, he started his career as a pilot and later as a safety leader with American Airlines before joining Airlines for America. Later, he served as executive manager of group safety and health for the Qantas Group, and then he worked as vice president of safety, security and quality at WestJet in Calgary, Alberta. From 2022 to 2023, he served as acting administrator of the FAA. He was appointed chief safety officer for Archer Aviation Inc. in 2023.

Dennis Jones and Beverley Drake
Dennis Jones and Beverley Drake

Dennis Jones (’80)

A retired managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Jones served with the agency for four decades. Jones began his NTSB career as an intern in 1979 and was hired full-time as a field investigator trainee in 1980. His first major investigation was the August 1987 crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 out of Detroit. At the request of former NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt (’14, ’18), who is now executive director of The Boeing Center for Aviation & Aerospace Safety at Embry-Riddle, Jones accepted the full-time position and was confirmed in September 2017, becoming the agency’s first African American managing director. (Read more about Jones.)

Beverley Drake (’77, ’02, ’05)

The first woman pilot to fly for the Guyanese Defense Force and the Guyana Airways Corporation, Drake served as a senior aviation accident investigator/analyst who headed the National Transportation Safety Board’s Federal Women’s Program. Recognition for Drake’s accomplishments have included a City of New York Citation, “The Golden Arrowhead Award of Distinction.”

*Ginger Pinholster contributed to this report.

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