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[PHOTO] Stepping Up: Summer 2008

For years, Katie Taylor spent her work life 40,000 feet above the earth, flying at speeds far past the speed of sound, serving her country by piloting a U.S. Air Force jet fighter. These days, she's found a new way to serve others, preparing for a career in public service by earning her executive master's degree in philanthropic studies from IUPUI this spring, and getting ready for a day when she'll help others face-to-face, side-by-side.

A Call to Serve

Katie Taylor

Thanks to her course work and an internship at Indianapolis-based Christel House International, she's already plunged headfirst into efforts to help children both here and around the world. Her efforts and the friendships she's forged in just a couple of years confirmed what in her heart she already suspected: that philanthropy was going to be her new way to soar.

Born for service

As part of a military family — Taylor was born at the Air Force Academy and lived at Air Force bases around the world — she grew up with an abiding interest in serving others.

Taylor graduated from the Air Force Academy herself, became a fighter pilot and married another fighter pilot, Indianapolis native Scott Taylor. But after she and Scott ended their Air Force careers in 2006, Taylor wanted to find a new way to serve others. And she found it at IUPUI and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

"I feel in my heart that I've been called to the service aspect of the nonprofit field," she says. "But it's such a diverse field — I had so much to learn, and IUPUI is by far the best place for that."

The philanthropic studies program and the Center on Philanthropy are so closely tied to the nonprofit sector in Indianapolis that internships and volunteer programs — the chance to meet real-world needs — abounded for Taylor and her fellow students.

"I was excited to get into the field," she says. "You can only learn so much in a classroom. The chance to touch the lives of others is so fulfilling."

Scott Taylor, who now flies for FedEx out of Indianapolis, shares his wife's passion for service.

"We moved to Indianapolis because Scott's family is here," she says. "But what keeps us here are the many opportunities we have found to help others. There are so many people who want to help; it's wonderful to be part of that type of community."

Their passion for helping people earned both Katie and Scott one of two statewide "Big Give" awards from WRTV -Channel 6 this winter, part of "Oprah's Big Give" project, headed by Oprah Winfrey. The Taylors conceived "Operation Heartland" to furnish and stock the new Moreau House created by Helping Homeless Veterans and Families of Indiana Inc. (HVAF). The facility will provide temporary housing for homeless vets, part of HVAF's support efforts.

Fascinated by her story

Les Lenkowsky, one of Taylor's mentors at IUPUI and in the Center on Philanthropy, finds her story both fascinating and amazing.

"Katie wrote one of the most unforgettable applications for admission I have ever read," says Lenkowsky. "After describing her career in the Air Force, flying fighter jets, she said she was leaving the military — but did not intend to abandon her career in public service."

What struck him was Taylor's innate understanding of what she wanted to achieve, and what it would take to reach her goals. She "hoped to get into our program in order to prepare herself to serve in a different way," Lenkowsky adds. "Then she recounted the enormous number of volunteer activities she was involved in while on active duty throughout the world. It left no doubt about her sincerity."

Her Christel House internship offered "marvelous opportunities" to make a difference in children's lives, something that resonates with Taylor. "I have a brother my parents adopted in Thailand who has special needs, and I know what the care and support of others can mean," she says.

One of her favorite tasks was the chance "to help bring three girls from our international learning centers to spend six weeks at Culver Academies," the nationally renowned lakeside residential academy for both boys and girls, located in northwest Indiana.

Two of the girls came to the U.S. from South Africa, while the third came from Mexico City.

"The girls loved it and had such a good time. To see the fruits of Christel House's labor, to see the impact on those girls' lives, was truly memorable for me."

Shared characteristics

Taylor sees interesting intersections between her past and future lives.

"As a pilot, you have to see the big picture, process lots of information," she says. "And in the military, you have to work as part of a team — it can't be all about you!" In the world of public service, Taylor has found that seeing the "big picture" and being a team player also are inherently valuable skills.

What she has learned about the field of philanthropy convinces Taylor that she's in the right place at the right time of her life.

"When Scott and I first moved to Indy, we were driving along West Street and I saw a sign for the Center on Philanthropy," she says. "It seems like fate, since I wanted to get into that field, and I'd never heard about the Center before."

The philanthropic studies program's focus on the social, cultural, political and economic roles played by philanthropy and nonprofit organizations fascinated her. With her MA safely in hand, she's never regretted the decision.

"It has surpassed every expectation I had," Taylor says. "The professors were wonderful, the courses challenging and interesting, and my classmates — I can't tell you how much respect I have for my fellow students. I was to be a full-time student, which helped me finish the (threeyear) program in 18 months; most of my classmates have to juggle work and family as well as the coursework and service — I don't know how they do it!"

One of her fellow students found Taylor's story just as compelling, and class discussions a true learning experience.

"Katie's experience as a pilot, her passion for learning and desire to improve the lives of others is natural, authentic and inspirational," says Amy Conrad Warner, who in addition to being a student serves as IUPUI's vice chancellor for external affairs. "She accepts new ideas as readily as she welcomes opposing views."

Personal interests

As dedicated as she is to her burgeoning career, Taylor makes time for other interests.

"My passion is to spend time with family," she says. "Our life went from always on the go to simple and sweet, and Scott and I love it that way! We delight in walks in Eagle Creek Park,we've become diehard Colts fans, and I have to admit I'm a closet NASCAR fan."

She also runs marathons — 17 at last count — many to raise money for worthwhile causes.

Taylor admits that marathons are "a fairly arduous process, but one you share with all the runners around you." She still recalls her first, while stationed in Okinawa, in which she saw a group of blind runners being led through the course by sighted runners. "I thought that was an amazing gift, to be able to share an experience with someone who might not otherwise be able to take part," she says.

Katie and Scott Taylor enjoy walks through Eagle Creek Park when they're not finding ways to serve their community.

The Taylors have even found a way to blend their aerial skills with their determination to help those around them. They are part of the Air Charity Network (formerly known as Angel Flight America), an organization of pilots who volunteer to fly children and adults in need of medical attention not available near their homes to hospitals and health-care facilities that can treat them. The flights are free to the families being transported; the costs are absorbed by the pilots themselves. The network flies in legs; from one pilot and plane to the next, then on to the next, and so forth to the treatment facility — then back.

For both Katie and Scott, it's a way to marry their passions: flying and service.

"It's wonderful to be part of something so important," she says. "You know you were able to help people at a critical time."

Taylor started flying at age 14, learning to soar the skies in gliders, something she still considers "the closest thing to pure flight." But she's found that even life soaring among the clouds can't carry the human spirit as high as simply offering a helping hand.