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Flying high

A gift from The Lawson Foundation in honour of the late Tom Lawson supports students seeking a career in commercial aviation

by Krista Habermehl, MA'05 | April 7, 2015

Flying high
Pictured above: A Diamond DA42 aircraft in flight. DA42s are used to train Western Commercial Aviation Management (CAM) program students.

In 1999, a first-of-its-kind program took flight at Western University due in large part to the personal commitment and dedication of the late Tom C. R. Lawson.

Mr. Lawson, a veteran and honorary member and chairman of the Snowbirds 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, envisioned an academic program that combined courses in aviation management with professional flight training.

He worked side-by-side with University officials and personally invested – including building a flight centre and purchasing aircraft – to launch the Commercial Aviation Management (CAM) program in DAN Management and Organizational Studies at Western.

The late Tom C. R. Lawson helped launch the Commercial Aviation (CAM) program at Western. His memory is being honoured through the establishment of a student award in his name thanks to a gift from The Lawson Foundation.

Without Mr. Lawson, says Captain Brian Morris, director, Flight Operations and Industry Liaison at Western, the program, which is the only four-year university degree in aviation management in Canada, would not have taken off. “That’s the simple truth,” he says. “Tom made it happen. It was a very significant undertaking.”

Today, Western’s CAM program, which combines a bachelor’s degree in Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) with specialized courses in aviation and professional flight training, is receiving another boost – this time in memory of its benevolent founder.

The Lawson Foundation has donated $156,000 to the program to establish an annual $6,000 scholarship in Mr. Lawson’s honour.

The Thomas C.R. Lawson Award in Commercial Aviation Management (Flight Training) will be awarded to a full-time student enrolled in the third or fourth year of the program who maintains a 70 per cent average and demonstrates an aptitude for aviation.

“The Lawson Foundation is pleased to establish this award to honour Tom and celebrate his tremendous professional and philanthropic contributions to the London community,” says Marcel Lauzière, executive director of the Lawson Foundation.

Mr. Lawson’s passion for flying led him to get involved in organizing airshows and starting a flight training school, says his son, Ted Lawson. “It was at this point that he helped to develop the CAM program at Western, confident that it would give future pilots the background they would need for lifelong success in aviation. This award will help realize that vision.”

According to Morris, the scholarship is the largest of its kind for students in the program. “It’s really wonderful that Tom’s name lives on in this award and that through this generous gift we can educate the students as to Tom’s role in establishing the program,” he says.

In the 15 years since the launch of the program, the approximately 300 graduates have seen and done it all in the field of flight – from flying tourists to Cancun to piloting Canada’s Prime Minister halfway around the globe on CanForce01.

And what makes the program particularly unique, says graduate First Officer Steve Kurzbock, BMOS’03, currently a pilot with WestJet, is that it sets graduates up to not only pilot an aircraft, but to also work with an airline from a managerial perspective.

“As a pilot you benefit from understanding business operations, marketing and economics, as well as how to work in a team,” says Kurzbock. “Western offers all that through this program.” Kurzbock was a member of the first graduating class of the program and was fortunate to discover the program when he thought he’d have to put his dreams of becoming a pilot on hold in favour of getting a university degree.

“I wanted to become a commercial pilot all my life,” says Kurzbock. “When I stumbled upon this program I realized it was the perfect fit – and it’s worked out very well for me.”

Western CAM program students and flight instructors examine a fleet of aircraft at London's Diamond Flight Centre where the flight training portion of the program is conducted.

For Captain Conor Murphy, BMOS’07, who chose the military route and currently flies a Hercules tactical air transport aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force, the program taught him time management, prioritization and the skills to perform in spite of challenges. “The curriculum at Western is top-notch,” says Murphy. “A lot of what I learned is still applicable today.”

And while Murphy received financial support from family and from the military to complete his degree (flight training is an added $20,000 per year in addition to regular tuition), he recognizes the significance of a $6,000 annual award to a student in the program who may be facing financial hardship.

“This award could make a world of difference for a student trying to excel,” says Murphy. “Excellence fosters excellence and a little competition goes a long way. I hope the student who receives this award has traits like Tom Lawson – hard-working, motivated and community-minded.”

For more information about the CAM program, or to make a donation to Social Science, please contact Laura Maniago, Social Science development officer (519.661.2111 ext. 84959 or

This article appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of Impact Western
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