From the May 2011 issue of Our Moment, the UConn Foundation's e-newsletter.
From the skies over the Pacific in World War II through the birth of today’s rockets, Col. Joseph Regan (ret.) ’49 has had a lifelong vantage point to watch the evolution of aviation.
That kind of career demanded a thorough knowledge of science and math, which Regan gained at UConn. Today, he is supporting UConn students through a scholarship for those who, like he did, served in the US military, and particularly those majoring in Mechanical Engineering.
He believes that prior military service gives students a leg up on their classmates.
"I think my belief comes partially from an observation I made when I was at UConn,” he explains. “The veterans in my classes were usually the hardest-working and the achievers in the class. One of the things that the military does is make people become less self-centered and more results-focused, and it does that at an earlier age than other experiences. I found that part of my service very appealing."
Regan grew up in rural Tolland, just a few miles from the Storrs campus, and was exposed to UConn for the first time through his involvement in 4-H, which would send members on weeklong junior short courses at the University.
Graduating from high school, but without money to attend UConn, Regan worked at the state highway department and a machine tool factory before enlisting in 1943.
He spent three years in the US Army Air Corps as a B-24 bomber copilot during the Pacific campaign near New Guinea and, later, Japan itself.
Returning home after the war, Regan found he had saved a good deal of money and was accepted at UConn. Graduating in less than three years with an engineering degree, he maintained a connection to his love of flying and country by serving in the US Air Force Reserve as a student and later as a P-47 fighter pilot in the Connecticut Air National Guard. That service led to a career in the military, something that Regan couldn’t have foreseen when he first enlisted. He found that he enjoyed the mental and physical challenges of flying fighter planes, far more agile and fast than the bomber he flew in during the war.
"I never thought I would have chosen a military career,” Regan says, “but I found that I really enjoyed it. I looked at civilian jobs, and the bottom line is that no one could make me an offer that involved flying fighter planes."
The Air Force took care of the young pilot’s education, providing for a master’s degree at the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. at Purdue University. While a student, he flew with the Air National Guard of both Michigan and Indiana, handling some of the first fighter aircraft of the jet age, like the F-86 Sabre (image, right). As his air force career advanced, he moved into rocket research and development.
He cites the importance of education to his success in that career, and recalls saving enough to allow his seven children, and his grandchildren, to attend college if they chose to.
He said that the decision to support a scholarship was tied into one of the criteria he used to establish it: students applying for it must demonstrate academic success and leadership.
"I wanted it to be like my military service in a way," he says. "That is, oriented toward achievement. I want to support students who are likely to become successful achievers and then, in turn, have the capacity to give back to UConn and contribute to society. I view it as an investment in the future."
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