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Widener University announces 2018 Beideman Visiting Scholar

Leadership speaker

Heather Penney is the 2018-2019 Beideman Visiting Scholar.

Widener University will welcome former Air Force fighter pilot Maj. Heather “Lucky” Penney to campus this month as the university’s 2018-2019 Beideman Visiting Scholar. Penney, who is best known for the incredible courage she displayed in the skies on Sept. 11, 2001, will give a series of talks on leadership, including a keynote address that is open to the public.

Penney’s visit comes through Widener’s Oskin Leadership Institute, which hosts the Beideman Visiting Scholar program. Penney will give the public lecture “9/11 and Reflections on Courage” at a presentation Monday, Oct. 29 at 5 p.m. in Alumni Auditorium, 1 University Place, Chester.

Her role as the Beideman Visiting Scholar marks a return to Widener for Penney, who served as the university’s May 2018 undergraduate commencement speaker. She received an honorary doctor of humane letters at the ceremony.

The media is invited to attend Penney’s keynote address, and is encouraged to promote the event in advance to alert the public. The lecture is free and attendees are asked to register in advance so we may plan for seating. Registration is available online.

The keynote address is part of a two-day campus visit in which Penney will also address students, staff and faculty in separate talks that target leadership issues. Cadets with Widener’s Dauntless Battalion ROTC will be among the students in a workshop she facilitates.

“The Oskin Leadership Institute is honored that Maj. Penney will be sharing her thoughts about courage and leadership with Widener students, faculty and staff. She is widely-recognized across all branches of the military for her dedication and heroism on Sept. 11, 2001,” said Hal Shorey, director of the institute and of the university’s Organizational Development Services. “We are thrilled to welcome her back to the university, and to present this opportunity for everyone to engage with her.”

The Oskin Leadership Institute works to perpetuate the university’s long and noble tradition of inspiring students to be strategic leaders and responsible citizens who possess the character, courage and competencies to affect positive change throughout the world. Paul Beideman and his wife Caroline established the Beideman Visiting Scholar program within the institute in 2011. Through their gift, distinguished scholars from outside institutions spend time at Widener sharing their expertise and guiding faculty and student discussion and research. 

Paul Beideman is vice chair of the Widener Board of Trustees. He received a master’s degree in finance from Widener in 1979 and an honorary doctor of public service in 2014. He currently serves as president and chief executive officer of Avenue of the Arts Inc., an independent nonprofit organization created to coordinate and oversee the growth and development of the Avenue of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Penney was part of the first wave of women who went directly into fighter planes from pilot training. She grew up around aviation and warbirds, and learned that Congress had opened combat aviation to women while she was earning her Master of Arts at Purdue University. She applied to the Air National Guard and earned her wings at ENJJPT, Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training, where she flew the T-37 and T-38. The first and only woman in the 121st Fighter Squadron, Penney deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom for initial combat operations as a nighttime SCUD Hunter in the western deserts of Iraq, also supporting Special Operations Forces.

Most widely recognized for her service on Sept. 11, 2001, Penney was deployed that morning in an F-16 fighter jet from Andrews Air Force Base, with one mission: bring down United Airlines flight 93. The nation was under attack and there was no time to load ammunition or missiles onto the jet, so her task was to use her own plane to find and bring down the hijacked commercial airliner. The plan to crash into the Boeing 757 was essentially a suicide mission. United flight 93 crashed on its own in Shanksville, Pa.

Penney flew the F-16 for ten years before making the difficult decision to leave the fighter aviation as a single mother. She continued to serve, flying the Gulfstream G-100 Astra jet for another six years in the VIP Special Airlift Mission. She served as the national chair for the commemorative Air Force’s RISE ABOVE: WASP program from 2016 to 2017, telling the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots to inspire young girls to follow their dreams. She is senior resident fellow for The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.