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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedWomen Soar opens teens' horizons to aviation careers
Story and photo by Barbara A. Schmitz

Women Soar participants and mentors gather by the Brown Arch before Monday's air show.

Mentor Amy Laboda, editor in chief for Aviation for Women, introduces some of the Women Soar participants to Verne Wiese, WIA conference coordinator.

If you want a career in aviation, it doesn't mean you have to be a pilot.

You could be a journalist or be in the military. You could work in airport operations or be an airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic. Then there's aeromedicine, aeronautical engineering, and air traffic control.

Nearly 100 teenage girls learned about those careers and more at the sixth annual Women Soar You Soar program.

About 40 mentors and junior mentors were matched up with about 100 young women from throughout the United States and three foreign countries. From Sunday to Tuesday, they spent time talking to mentors, participating in hands-on sessions on navigation, gliders, rockets and aircraft structures, taking part in team-building activities, exploring the AirVenture grounds, and much more.

Amy Laboda, editor in chief of Aviation for Women, was back as a mentor. She took a group of Women Soar participants interested in journalism as a career on a tour, stopping at the AirVenture Today offices, the photography trailer, the Canon Imaging Center, and the Women in Aviation International booth. They also attended a press conference.

Each teen participating in Women Soar had to submit an essay about herself and why she wanted to come. Those essays were then shared with the mentors, Laboda said. "It really helped us to know the kids a little more and understand their aspirations," she said.

Jill Long, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and an aerobatic performer, took her group to look at military planes, to tour the Connie, and then looked at the Pitts and Huskys. (She flies a Pitts S-2B called Ragged Edge for air shows.)

Long has been a mentor since the Woman Soar program started. "I do it for the inspiration," she said. "Some of the junior mentors here had been in Women Soar in years back. The program is making a difference."

The program also continues to evolve. Curriculum was expanded this year, and partnerships were expanded to Fox Valley Technical College, as well as the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Melissa Nelson was a first-year mentor and works as an A&P mechanic at MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

"I wanted to warp young minds and show young women there are many facets to aviation beyond being a pilot," she said. "I wanted to show them the possibilities."

Being an A&P mechanic is a great job for anyone who likes to work with his or her hands, she said. "It's very empowering. If I can fix an airplane, I know I can fix anything."

She was joined by co-worker Christa Frey, a pilot, who said she has enjoyed meeting not only the girls, but also the other mentors.

The two said the young women participating in Women Soar were intelligent, driven, and seemed deeply interested in aviation. While many had family members who were pilots or involved in aviation, others had no one to serve as their mentor.

Some girls, like Krystal Vancil, 17, of Yucapia, California, already know what they want to do.

Krystal earned her private pilot certificate nearly three weeks ago and followed up by attending advanced airman training at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. She belongs to the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps and said she plans to be a naval aviator.

Kristen Overstreet, 15, of Sussex, Wisconsin, plans to become a private pilot and fly for fun. She's already started on that goal, having taken her first lesson.

Kristen said her father is a pilot, and she's been at AirVenture nine times. "I like coming here," she said. "But I like meeting other girls who are also interested in the same thing at Women Soar."

2010 was the second year that Kristin Sandager, 16, of Albert Lea, Minnesota, attended Women Soar. She is interested in a possible career in aeronautical or mechanical engineering.

She said she enjoyed talking to the mentors and the Women Airforce Service Pilots. Plus, she liked exploring other possible careers and how friendly and accepting everyone was.

"Once I was at a church camp, and I saw a plane go overhead and I said something about the plane … and another girl said I was weird," Sandager said. "At Women Soar, everyone is so accepting."

Why did some of the other young women spend their summer writing an essay so they could participate in the Women Soar program?

Prenise Whittington, 18, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, said she came to learn more about airplanes, meet new people, and see if flying is a job that interests her.

Hannah Grimm, 17, of Onalaska, Wisconsin, said she was afraid of flying and decided to face her fear head-on by enrolling in the Women Soar program.

"I'm very excited to see all the planes," she said. She is considering journalism as a career, as well as nursing or teaching.

Briana Godin, 16, of Menasha, Wisconsin, has attended Woman Soar twice. She said this year's program was even better than last year's.

"This time we're getting the AirVenture experience more, and spending more time with our mentor groups," she said.

While she isn't sure what she wants to do yet, she is considering aviation as a career, as well as journalism since she's an editor at her high school magazine.

Larissa Lupp, 18, of Wiesbaden, Germany, summed up the AirVenture and Women Soar experience best. "I've met some amazing women who can tell a lot of stories about what they have accomplished in their lives," she said. "Plus I've met people from all over America who are really nice. I see this as a chance to learn more about aviation, and I hope it will help me decide what I want to do when I graduate."

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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