February 13, 2024

Mike Pontiff ’98 scanned the room for a seat in his freshman Calculus II class. He spotted a fellow cadet and slipped into the seat beside her, not yet understanding the impact of this simple decision.

The mystery cadet, like him, was also from an Air Force family. This connection inspired a friendship that led to the eventual creation of their own family, as well as a generous planned gift for future cadets.

Strangers Step Up

When Melissa ’98 and Lt. Col. Michael “Mike” Pontiff ’98 reflect on their time at Texas A&M University, they fondly remember their time together and important lessons from the Corps of Cadets. However, one of their most cherished life lessons learned—the significance of giving back—was a gift from Aggies who’d walked on campus long before them.

From Ring Dance to their engagement in 1998, Melissa and Mike share many lifelong memories of Aggieland.

Mike was awarded a Sul Ross Scholarship through the Corps and built a relationship with his donor. “He was the most genuine man I’d ever met,” Mike recalled. “He was a vital part of my university experience."

As one of six children, Melissa relied heavily on financial assistance to pay for college. But during her junior year, her loans were suddenly revoked. They had been reevaluated because of her twin sister’s recent marriage. Melissa was now viewed as one of five children instead of six, which was the tipping point for qualifying for financial assistance.

Four random strangers stepped up and blessed me. I will never forget that feeling of someone believing in me."
-Melissa Pontiff '98

Devasted at the prospect of leaving Aggieland, Melissa felt her only tenable solution was to quit the Corps and live with family off campus. This would enable her to gain a refund from Corps housing and her meal plan, which she could then use on tuition. She visited the Office of the Commandant to explain her situation and asked how to initiate her reluctant exit from the Corps. A few days later, her military advisor told her that all her university costs had been covered by four generous donors.

“I was just dumbfounded at how much grace I’d been given to stay at Texas A&M when I didn’t feel like I deserved it," Melissa recounted. "Four random strangers stepped up and blessed me. I will never forget that feeling of someone believing in me."

Two of Melissa’s four scholarships lasted into her senior year, which was also when she and Mike began dating. Mike was commissioned into the Air Force the day after graduation, and the couple married less than a year later.

Reaching Final Destination

Mike's 25-year Air Force career led him and Melissa around the world, including to England and Germany. While overseas, they decided to grow their family, adopting their first two daughters from Ukraine. After moving back to Texas to Laughlin Air Force Base, they adopted their youngest daughter and two sons through Texas’ foster care system.

“Adoption wasn’t something we’d discussed when we were dating, but we found out three years into our marriage that biological kids weren’t an option,” Mike reflected. “Some might consider infertility a curse, but seeing all our kids into adulthood has shown us that it was a blessing.”

During his career, Mike primarily served as a KC-135 and C-130 pilot. He then served as the inspector general and a T-6 instructor pilot for three years, which solidified his desire to teach. In June 2022, the couple returned to Aggieland for him to become director of operations and assistant professor of aerospace studies through Texas A&M’s Air Force ROTC program.