On July 26, 2005, Americans watched anxiously as the first “Return to Flight” Space Shuttle Mission following the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster was launched from the Kennedy Space Center. I was very interested in learning the background of the individual selected to command the mission. Doing research, I learned that it was Eileen Collins, an Air Force Colonel and the first female to pilot a space shuttle and, in 1999, the first female space shuttle mission commander.

In learning about Commander Collins background, I was most interested to learn that she started her post secondary academic career at Corning Community College later going on to advanced degrees at Syracuse, Webster and Stanford.

With the theme of the 19th Annual Chicago Humanities Festival being “Thinking Big,” there was no doubt that Eileen Collins was a big thinker and that, as a community college graduate, would be perfect to feature at Wright College. Also because of the strong ties of Wright to aviation and O’Hare, we were honored that the City of Chicago Department of Aviation could be a sponsor of the event as well.









Commander Collins came to Wright earlier on the day of her Chicago Humanities Festival Presentation to meet with Wright and local high school students. We hosted a reception for her at Eli’s before the evening presentation. Above , Commander Collins is greeted by Rich Rodriquez, the Commissioner of Aviation for the City of Chicago and a sponsor of the event. On the right, Commander Collins meets Dr. Charles Guengerich, the President of Wright, his wife Diane and daughter Alison.








Now retired from the Air Force and NASA, Commander Collins is a strong advocate for young woman pursing careers in math and science. Here audience at Wright included many young women who could see the possibility of one day becoming a test pilot or an astronaut. In a time when America is falling far behind in producing scientists and engineers, it is most great to have Commander Collins share her life story of success.

Eli’s Maureen and Marc Schulman give Commander Collins a quick tour of the Eli’s Bakery. On the right, Commander Collins is greeted by Eli’s Executive Vice President, Jolene Worthington, Mary Gale, Bill Rosa and Ramito Garcia.

Eli’s Associates get an opportunity to meet Commander Collins. She is a big fan of chocolate and sampled a number of Eli’s Chocolate Cheesecakes and Desserts.








We were honored that Dr. Carla Pugh of Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Medical School, also a presenter for the Chicago Humanities Festival, could attend the presentation at Wright. Both Pugh and Collins have advanced degrees from Stanford; Pugh a PhD in Education and Collins a Masters degree in Operations Research.

Commander Collins had a Standing Room Only audience in the Wright Atrium appropriately under a replica of the Wright Brothers first air plane to fly. On December 17, 2004, Wright hosted the official Chicago celebration for the 100th Anniversary of Flight.

Commander Collins was a great speaker and stayed until 10:30pm answering every question and signing dozens of autographs.