From agriculture to entrepreneurship to aviation, junior Jon Ballou is persistent in the pursuit of his dreams
Jon Ballou’s ambition is sky high.
While that might seem like a clever play-on-words to describe his time at K-State Polytechnic as a professional pilot major, the Wasco, California native has been accomplishing lofty goals since a young age. Starting a business as a teenager? Check. Earning a college degree before graduating high school? Check. Becoming a dentist office’s lead lab technician in 3D modeling and printing implants? Check.
At just 19 years old, Ballou has had a lot of life experiences, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I want to be the best person I can possibly be,” he said. “I love learning and doing new things, and when I set my mind on something, I’m focused and persistent.”
Ballou’s determination can be directly linked to his childhood, discovering early on the value of working hard. His father is an almond and hazelnut farmer and Ballou says he grew up waking around 5 a.m. to assist his father in the fields and some days, wouldn’t go to bed until midnight. Born a city kid from San Diego, Ballou’s father found interest in the country, going to school for irrigation and engineering. He has been in agriculture both in California and Oregon for 30 years now, and Ballou admires his dad’s desire to seek an unexpected career path as well as his gritty work ethic.
When Ballou was in eighth grade, a man knocked on their door one day selling aerial photos of their farming property. When he heard how much the man was charging for just one image – $180 – he said to himself, “I could do that!” So, Ballou began researching the ideal drone for photography, videography and 3D mapping. He obtained his Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, which is required by the FAA to fly unmanned aircraft commercially. He also created a website, printed business cards and bought insurance. By his sophomore year in high school, Ballou was a business owner.
“You don’t know how many times I heard, you’re just 16, how good of a photo can you take? And I said, give me 20 minutes.”
Because of his connection to farming, Ballou also spent his time in high school working toward a college degree in agriculture. He was part of a career prep program established by The Wonderful Company that allows students to earn an Associate of Science in different tracks with the choice of joining the company with a guaranteed job or continuing on to complete a bachelor’s degree. When Ballou finished the program, he had 63 hours of college credit and an associate in mechanized agriculture from Bakersfield College. He walked in that graduation ceremony before his own high school commencement.
Ballou didn’t end up taking an ag job at The Wonderful Company because of a chance run-in with one of his friends home from college during holiday break. His friend, who just happened to be studying at K-State Polytechnic, offered to take Ballou flying the next day in his airplane. When Ballou arrived at the airport, his friend taught him about pre-flight, which he says was a dizzying experience.
“I was thinking, how can anyone do this – what if you miss a step? Then, we got inside the plane and I saw all the dials and gages and buttons. My brain was so overloaded; I had so many questions.”
All of Ballou’s anxieties ended the moment they took off. The plane had two yokes, so he was given the opportunity to take the controls a couple of times from the right seat. The friends flew to the beach and landed to get lunch. After he got home that night, Ballou knew he couldn’t see himself in any other career than aviation.
“It was the coolest day of my life,” he said. “I couldn’t believe what we had just done, and I wanted to do it over and over and over again. It was the best feeling and I realized I didn’t want to do anything else but that every day for the rest of my life.”
While Ballou had toured a few college campuses in California, like UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly, his friend’s positive experience at K-State Polytechnic convinced him to look beyond his home state. After visiting, he knew being a Wildcat was the place for him.
“I just loved all of the people I met,” he said. “My admissions representative, Ashley, called and checked on me all of the time. The advisors helped me transfer my college credits. Everyone made the transition so easy. It was obvious to me that K-State Polytechnic is student-focused and I knew I couldn’t find that at any larger school.”
Though his second semester at K-State Polytechnic was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, in true Jon Ballou fashion, he found the tenacity, not to just get through it, but to make the most of it. In addition to finishing his studies online, Ballou was able to find work at a dentist office. One of the doctors asked if Ballou was tech savvy because he was interested in beginning to 3D produce the office’s own dentures, bridges and crowns. Ballou was determined to fulfill the doctor’s request, so he started researching 3D modeling and printing. After Ballou presented his findings to the doctor, he was given a job as a lab technician and put in charge of the process.
“I know the pandemic has been a negative experience for most people, but I’m trying to stay hopeful,” he said. “I like to turn adverse situations into something I can learn from, and when COVID-19 began, I went home and developed a new job skill.”
Now Ballou’s attention is back on aviation. He has completed his instrument rating and will finish commercial by the end of the year. He also plans to earn his CFI and can’t wait to teach other students as a flight instructor. He says he gets great satisfaction knowing he has helped someone. If Ballou’s dedication to teaching is anything like the resolve he learned as a child and has demonstrated throughout his life, Wildcats will be in good hands.