Florida State Sen. Donald J. Gaetz (R-Destin) represents District 1 in the Florida Panhandle, which includes Okaloosa, Walton, Washington, Holmes, Jackson and Bay counties. Gaetz recently completed a two-year term as president of the Florida Senate. He was first elected to the Senate in 2006, was re-elected in 2010 and 2012, and will serve through 2016.
During the 2014 fall commencement ceremony, Embry-Riddle announced that the university’s Aerospace Career Academy would be renamed the Gaetz Aerospace Institute in his honor. The academy was established in 2004 at Gaetz’s suggestion when he was the Okaloosa (Florida) School Board superintendent, searching for ways to link education and Florida’s economic future. He turned to Embry-Riddle, the global leader in aviation and aerospace education, with an idea and an invitation.
The result was a concurrent enrollment program in which students receive both high school and college credit for completing up to 10 courses taught by Embry-Riddle professors embedded at the high schools. Students can select from 18 courses in such areas as aeronautics (pilot training), unmanned aircraft systems, astronomy, meteorology and engineering. As a Florida senator, Gaetz continues to support this successful program that provides college access and affordability to students seeking careers in high-skill, high-demand, high-wage fields.
Gaetz has been a champion of education since first being elected to the Okaloosa School Board. He then became the first non-educator ever elected Superintendent of the Okaloosa County School District. Under his leadership, Okaloosa Schools became the highest performing public schools in Florida and won numerous national awards for academic excellence.
Of the Aerospace Institute that has been named in his honor, Sen. Gaetz said, “Connecting our high school and college enrollment programs to Florida’s economic development in the aerospace industry equals added value to our students, at no cost to their families.”
Gaetz is the retired co-founder of VITAS Healthcare Corp., a hospice care provider that comforts patients and their families and preserves their dignity in the face of terminal illness. He was also president of the National Hospice Organization.