Lebanon student receives 1st-of-its-kind scholarship

Staff Reports • Updated Aug 18, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Some folks prefer staying close to the ground their whole lives.

Others seem destined to soar.

Drew Owen appears headed for the latter as the first recipient of the Cameron Blake Parnell Memorial Scholarship Fund at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, established in 2015 and administered by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Under terms of the scholarship, students must be rising juniors or seniors at MTSU, majoring in aerospace with plans to become a pilot and maintain a 3.0 minimum grade point average.

Owen, 25, a junior majoring in aerospace administration and business, transferred to MTSU this summer from Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. A Lebanon native, he finished high school in Muncie, Ind., and spent his freshman year in college at Volunteer State Community College.

“I’m very honored,” said Owen on receiving the scholarship. “To be able to afford my classes, [to have] less stress on making money and paying bills … I’m forever thankful.”

Parnell declared in the fifth grade that he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. He made good on the promise.

Known as a gregarious, gentle giant of a man and a lifelong adventurer, Parnell graduated in 2006 from Middle Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace administration with a professional pilot emphasis. While in college he also excelled at rugby, earning the nickname “Claw” while serving as president of MTSU’s Moosemen Rugby Club.

He went on to have a successful career as a pilot before his death April 28, 2014 in a hiking accident in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Parnell was 31 years old.

This summer, Owen had the opportunity to meet Parnell’s parents, Scott and Gaye Parnell, of Mt. Juliet. 

“They were very friendly and welcoming, and just great to talk to,” Owen said. “They pretty much felt like my own grandparents.”

He previously spent almost three years working as a ramp agent for Envoy Airlines, an offshoot of American Eagle. Fittingly, he caught the flying bug at an early age, much like Cam Parnell.

“My aunt worked for American Airlines as a ramp agent,” Owen said. “One time, when I was about 6, she had me go see the pilot in the cockpit, and I was amazed at all the gadgets and this huge machine this one man can control.

“The flying was what really got me,” he continued. “I was super interested in it after that.”

The Parnells are pleased to have Owen as the first recipient of the memorial scholarship to their son.

“We just want to make this scholarship available to more pilots. Flying was such a passion for Cam, and he did great things with it,” said Gaye Parnell. “We just want to help pass it forward.”

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee administers more than 100 scholarship funds through an open application process. Some scholarships help students from a particular school or area. Others provide financial assistance to those pursuing a specific field of study, or assist students most in need.

For more information, visit cfmt.org/request/scholarships or

contact scholarship coordinator Pat Cole at 615-321-4939 or [email protected]

The Community Foundation exists to promote and facilitate giving in the 40 counties of Middle Tennessee and beyond. It does this by accepting gifts of any size from anyone at any time and by empowering individuals, families, companies, nonprofits and communities to respond to needs and opportunities that matter. The Community Foundation works with people who have great hearts, whether or not they have great wealth, to craft solutions that reflect their intentions and goals. For more information, call 615-321-4939 or visit cfmt.org.


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