North St. Paul student wins $10K flight scholarship

Evan Ekstrand won a $10,000 scholarship which will help him achieve his goal of becoming a pilot. (submitted photo)

A Stillwater Area High School student hoping to be a Delta pilot just got a little closer to his dreams.

In June, the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association awarded a million dollars in scholarships for high schoolers and teachers. Evan Ekstrand was the only Minnesotan of the 80 students to receive $10,000, used to cover flight training costs.

“The scholarship helps me a lot with not needing to worry about, ‘How much is this next flight lesson gonna cost?’ I’m sure it will help greatly in the future,” Ekstrand says.

The 16-year-old junior from North St. Paul serves as a Cadet Commander in the Civil Air Patrol, the highest staff position in the patrol. He’s wanted to be a pilot since he was 8 years old when he found out about the patrol program through his Cowern Elementary School bus driver. 

Thousands of people applied for the scholarship, but Ekstrand credits his luck to his “four As” — academics, arts, athletics and activities. 

Throughout junior high and high school, Ekstrand says he kept a high GPA — close to 4.0 — sang in the school choir, played football and ran track, and participated in a virtual syngery club. He is a full-time student at Century College through a PSEO program.

Beyond all this, he spends two or three hours a week practicing flying and another three hours in patrol meetings, in addition to the work being a Cadet Commander requires. He also squeezes in a job at the Lake Elmo airport and schedules private lessons with Delta pilots to get more practice under his belt.

The Cadet Commander position, he says, has given him much to be thankful for.

“The opportunities and morals and leadership skills the Civil Air Patrol can offer you — that alone can impact your life greatly,” Ekstrand says. “That has, alone, given me a really good chance at getting that scholarship.”

Ekstrand received the patrol’s Certificate of Recognition for Lifesaving and the Bronze Medal of Valor for saving a child from drowning in a lake.

He says he was in the car with his family on the way to a movie when he received the email from the association.

“I said, ‘I won the scholarship!’ I was really excited about it. I couldn’t wait and tell my parents and my family,’” he says. “I think I ended up calling maybe five or six relatives.”

But for Ekstrand, it’s about more than just the money.

“I’m hoping to go down to Mankato, after I do two years of PSEO, to go down there to receive my instructor rating,” he says. 

The scholarship requires recipients to pass a milestone within one year of receiving the award. Ekstrand’s plan is to fly solo — and he plans to do so within the next few lessons.

“On my [future job] applications and in my life,” he says, “it opens a lot of doors.”

A complete list of scholarship recipients and a video showing some of their reactions upon receiving the award can be found at


–Amy Felegy can be reached at or 651-748-7815.

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