Getting to know Bernie Wulle

This story was originally posted on 01/21/2011. Bernie Wulle, associate professor of aviation technology, came to Purdue in January 1992 from a job as a pilot for a Caribbean airline. He was familiar with campus and the aviation technology program, having earned a master’s degree in special education and started a flight training program with Lafayette Aviation at Purdue’s airport. Over the last 19 yeas, he has focused on being a teacher who can help his students succeed. He has won the Dwyer Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching and the Outstanding Tenured Faculty Award. In the summer of 2010, he helped bring Able Flight to campus, giving students with physical disabilities a chance to learn how to fly. In addition to his academic duties, he is completing his dissertation through Purdue’s College of Education.

On teaching: When I first got here, 80 percent of my time was flight instruction and 20 percent was classroom teaching. I don’t do much flight instruction now. Teaching is a neat profession that is undervalued in our society. It’s an art and should be treated as an art. Dominick Andrisani from aerospace engineering and I teach a test piloting course each spring. It’s neat working with an aerospace engineer because he approaches things from a different perspective. I give a technical view, telling the students the things I need the airplane to be able to do. As part of the class, we get a picnic and go to a small airport and bring them back to old technology. My 1953 airplane, engineering-wise, was a marvel of its time. It still does today what it was designed to do 90 years ago.

On the differences in teaching flight: Flight instruction is a one-on-one adult education environment, which is somewhat different than the classroom. I’ve had lecture classes of a just a few students to 150 students. Lecture techniques are different. For larger classes, you have a broad-based, centric approach; you create an environment where everyone can succeed. It’s a major difference in approach. In a one-on-one environment, how can the instructor be more attuned to student learning methods and be able to adapt to enhance outcomes? The FAA is pushing standards, and it’s a good point. But what it leaves out is that you should be able to adapt your lessons to help students. How can we find a better way into real learning methods?

On his involvement with Able Flight: Able Flight was really exciting. The number of students was surpassed by the quality. It was an eye-opening experience. The experience allows them to look at themselves in a different way and to know that anything is possible. It’s great to watch someone solo anyway. I think it was more inspiring to us to see them do this than it probably was for them. I hope to expand the partnership. I’ve learned that we have to stand out of the way and let them get to it. The young man who was here has muscular dystrophy. He has worked to increase his motor skills. He’s actually working to get his commercial certificate. He already has his medical certificate. It’s looking like he can go full up into the ranks. Able Flight opened up a whole new world for him. Heather and a friend have teamed up to fly an airplane along the east coast and stop at VA hospitals to rally folks and let them know there are possibilities out there. I want to expand it, to help people with physical disabilities look at aviation as a career path. Not just flight, but maintenance, management, the FAA. We should explore all sorts of possibilities to train and educate not only students but also corporations to take a look at some of these folks.

Outside of work: My wife and I started raising dogs to show as a hobby. We bred and trained AKC champions. The operation evolved; we started a rescue, and then we did boarding. Now, we have the county contract to take in abandoned animals. We took in 1,600 animals in 2010.  My wife, Nita Pollock, is retired from the FAA and takes on most of the responsibility for the kennel. I work a couple of hours there after I get home from work. I also have a 1953 Piper Supercub that I tool around in. It never goes anyplace fast, but it gets there.