By Vee Glessner
It’s no surprise that life at the Prescott campus was different 40 years ago than it is today, but it may surprise some to find out exactly how much student life has changed in the last few decades.
The first experience most students have with their university is the admissions process, and at the time, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University maintained an open-admissions policy: the philosophy was that anyone who applied was allowed admission to the school.
“It seemed like if you could pay, you could go,” according to now-retired U.S. Navy Captain John Fristachi, a 1983 graduate of the Prescott campus.
Indeed, the admissions process wasn’t the intense essay-writing campaign that many colleges require now.
According to Peg Billson, 1984 graduate of the campus’ first engineering class, the school nominally asked for SAT scores and GPA, but “the school was clear that they were more interested in the students’ aptitude and not their test scores,” she said.
Next, the students underwent orientation, which wasn’t anything like the fanfare the school puts on today. “I don’t remember them holding any organized orientation process,” said Fristachi.
Orientation essentially consisted of class registration. “You walked from table to table to register for the different classes,” said Billson of the process that just barely resembles the digital system students use to register today.
Early students were housed in the slump-block buildings that are now academic classrooms, such as Buildings 52, 54, and 55.
These were the dorms that were left over from Prescott College. “The multi-story dorms weren’t built until my senior year,” said Billson.
She, like all students at the time, lived in suite-style housing that resembles the Mingus Mountain floor plan, but on a smaller scale. “Each building housed 12 people. Six on each side,” she added.
By the time Fristachi enrolled in 1980, the campus had taken on more students than it could house. So they wouldn’t have to turn down students, the school came up with a creative solution to the housing crisis.
“First year the campus didn’t have sufficient dorm space for the large incoming class they had rounded up, so they housed us on… Whiskey Row! I’m not kidding. I spent a trimester living in the St. Michaels Hotel with a roommate and a lot of other Riddle students,” Fristachi said.
Although the dining program has expanded in scale quite a bit since the 1980s, students were well-fed.
Their single cafeteria was in the building that is now the Hunt Student Union and served college standbys. “All the food was the classic eggs, stew, sandwiches,” according to Billson.
Academics, too, have grown in a big way since the origins of the school. The first year, the only program offered was Aeronautical Science.
Billson enrolled in Aeronautical Science in the Fall of 1979, but changed her degree program in the Fall of 1980 when the university began offering Aeronautical Engineering.
“I was subsequently one of the first five graduates in the program.
All of our reports and tests were kept and submitted to ABET for accreditation,” she said, noting that the pressure was especially high on her class to perform well.
These first five engineering students had to prove to the accreditation board that ERAU Prescott was providing a top-notch engineering education in its first year of offering the program.
Fristachi enrolled a year later than Billson as an Aeronautical Science major, taking 18-22 credit hours per trimester.
Flight students at the time took many of the same courses that they are required to now, but the distribution of time was different.
One week, they’d have academic classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and fly on Tuesday and Thursday. The following week, the two switched.
Although student life has changed immensely over the years, students of the very first classes hold the sentiment that their time at ERAU was everything that it could have been: “We had everything we needed at the time to get an incredible education,” said Billson.