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A Promising Future: Girls, Aviation and STEM Careers

On 26th October, Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (GSTEM) hosted an encouraging networking event for high school girls in partnership with Women in Aviation International (WAI). The evening counted on the presence of 18 women aviation professionals (+ 1 man!), dedicating their time to encourage the future generation of women aviators in Colorado. 

According to the US Department of Commerce, “women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015, but held only 24% of STEM jobs.” Furthermore, only 30% of STEM degrees were achieved by women, and yet the gender pay gap is smaller in STEM careers. 

In an attempt to pin down the cause of such discrepancy, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) conducted implicit association tests, showing that 70% of participants associated males with science and females with art. These views matter, since even unconscious biases have led to discouragement, underperformance and low recruitment of women in these fields. What is undeniable is there is underrepresentation of women in STEM and therefore, organizations such as GSTEM, WAI and related activities and events are invaluable in shifting this reality. 

GSTEM Denver works non-stop to provide girls with the resources and support they need to pursue STEM careers. Their objective is to “fill the pipeline and close the gender gap in STEM.” And this is exactly what resonated on Friday night in their third annual mocktail networking social.

WorldDenver was also present at the event, bringing in a delegation from the U.S. Ukraine STEM Program. Funded by the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, the program brought 5 STEM teachers and academics to participate with meetings and events, such as the Mocktail Aviation Social, in Washington and Denver. The hope is to replicate similar initiatives in Ukraine. The STEM professionals worked in sectors from Corporate Responsibility to University professors and directors, and school teachers of computer sciences, engineering, economics, accounting. Wendy Merchant, Executive Director of Girls in STEM also met with the group for a 1-on-1 meeting to debrief the event and discuss other initiatives and programs of the organization, and explore opportunities for future collaborations. 

 

 

GSTEM’s 3rd Annual Mocktail Networking Social

Trimbi Szabo, president of WAI’s mile High Chapter Denver, opened the evening reciting that as a teenager she could never have imagined herself as a pilot. Encouraging since she is now a certified flight instrutor and a n advocate for women aviation. 

The girls then heard Anne Kollar, the key note speaker and distinguished woman in Aviation. Anne began her career as a airplane mechanic, volunteering and serving for the last 13 years in the Air National Guard and has been deployed in both Iraq and Kuwait. Whilst her impressive curriculum stands out, her passion shines brighter in her constant efforts at promoting women in this field. Kollar mentors young pilots, frequently speaks at events and participates in airshows, invariably uplifting the community of women aviators. 

In brief, Kollar illustrated to the girls how a career in aviation embodies every sector of STEM. Beginning in science, where you must understand concepts like drag and uplift. Moving on to  technology, which is incorporated in radar systems and decent path planning. In fact, she joked that you could almost fly a plane off an Ipad nowadays, due to the advanced software available. Next, she cited opportunities as aerospace engineers, working with creativity in plane manufacturing. Finally, explaining that maths plays an inherent part in aviation from calculating ramp angles for take off and decent, to fuel management when avoiding a storm or in calculating lead radials. 

Considering the breadth of skills involved in aviation, Kollar expressed that she “loves working in aviation as everything is new and challenging everyday”. Whether it is planning decent paths or dealing with weather turbulence, the dynamic nature of this field remains constantly innovative and stimulating. 

As GSTEM also aims at preparing girls to seise the career opportunities, the evening closed with the chance to network with the professionals in the room. Prior to which, the audience had the chance to here from another 5 aviation professionals. 

 


Q & A Panel on Women in Aviation

To further the notion that STEM truly resonates in aviation a panel of women with diverse careers within the sector ran the audience through processes in becoming pilots, as well as the new software and technology that has innovated flying procedures. 

The youngest panel member being just 16, Megan Carlson, spoke about her first solo night flight, where she witnessed a live police chase in Denver downtown below!  

Other highlights included the 60 annual internships offered by Jeppesen, a leading company in aerospace navigations and software development, whose headquarters are based in Colorado. 

For aspiring pilots the panel members mentioned the free Discovery Flight, provided by the Young Eagles program, which offers those aged 8-17 a free 30 minute flight with a qualified instructor. 

Gabrielle Hoekstra, a commercial pilot for Delta, ran through how the striking advances in aviation technology have resulted in vastly safer flights, less inflight turbulence and the ability to avert  storms even in night conditions. For instance, she described having to reel off pages of paper with approximate weather predictions, that have now been replaced with constantly updating, live digital weather information. Technology, thus, is not only inherent to aviation, but is fundamental in pioneering the current systems.  

On a final note, Anne Kollar enlightened us on witnessing hundreds of shooting stars during night flights. And we were assured by Anna Byers, software developer at Jeppesen, that cyberthreats though present, are prevented with firewalls and high security that safeguards the software. However, there seemed an unanimous agreement that even these pilots would prefer a “human being at the yolk,” rather than a driverless plane. Therefore, rest assured girls, you are wanted and needed in aviation careers and you will be for the foreseeable future. 

 

Links and Resources: 

Discovery Flight by Young Eagles

Air National Guard 

Jeppesen Internships 

 

A Further Thank You to the Sponsors: 

Girls in STEM Denver 

The Commons on Champa, which provides space for entrepreneurs to co-work, host events and free consultation in the city of Denver. 

Jeppesen

Downtown Denver Partnership

Women in Aviation International

Women in Aviation Mile High Chapter

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