|The annual WomenVenture group photo. View larger image (photo by Phil Weston)
|NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, meets Dot Lewis (left) and Bee Haydu at the Women in Aviation Breakfast at the Nature Center Friday. Lewis and Haydu were honored guests from the Women's Air Force Service Pilots from WWII. (photo by Phil Weston)
By Barbara A. Schmitz
Inspire. Motivate. Educate. Challenge.
That's what the Women Soar You Soar program is all about. Open to high school girls, Women Soar exists to introduce girls to career opportunities in aviation and to encourage them to pursue their dreams in aviation and beyond.
Chaperone Maci Wallace said this year's participants total 67 girls, ages 14 to 18, from throughout the United States, including as far away as Alaska.
Besides chaperones, 21 female mentors work with the girls all four days of the program. They include a flight surgeon, aviation photographer, airline pilot, engineer, and a math teacher applying to become a NASA astronaut.
Debby Rihn-Harvey is an aerobatic performer and chairwoman of the Women Soar program for seven of its eight years. Why does she come back each year?
"The reward is so great to see the girls blossom," she said. "They become more aware, more self assured."
She noted the program tries to inspire, educate, and motivate girls while imparting the self-confidence to do things outside the box.
"In the beginning, they are quiet, but at the end they are outgoing and have found new friends and have stepped outside their comfort area," she said. "They learn that if they are passionate and dedicated enough, someone will see that passion and help them succeed."
Activities include listening to speakers like Jessica Cox, the world's first armless certificated pilot, to touring the AirVenture grounds with air show pilots, taking part in hands-on workshops and team-building exercises, attending a college mixer and learning about education opportunities, and much more.
For the second consecutive year, Girl Scouts is also involved. Sue Schwarz, community development manager for Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes, is conducting icebreakers and team-building exercises with the girls.
In addition, each girl who participates becomes an honorary member of the Girl Scouts with an opportunity to earn her Gold Award, the Girl Scouts' highest award, Schwartz said.
On the second day of the program and the first day on the EAA AirVenture grounds, the girls, wearing green Women Soar T-shirts, explained some of the reasons they enrolled in the program.
Sarah House, 16, wanted to learn more about the military; Laura Benish, 14, wanted to learn more about career opportunities in general; Candice Votava, 17, came to meet new people. All three are from Oshkosh.
Some girls like it so much that they come back in subsequent years.
"I've been here two years before and I love it," said 16-year-old Tasca McKinnon of Wheaton, Illinois. "But I come to learn more about the options available in aviation careers."
"This is the third year I've come," said Abby Votava, 15, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. "It's really great to meet all these inspirational women. Plus, you get to see the friends you made before and meet some new ones."
Votava persuaded friend Whitney Simpson, also 15 and of Colorado Springs, to come. "I can't wait to see the vintage and World War II airplanes," she said. "And the guy who flies the Red Bull helicopter is the coolest guy ever."
The teens said they are looking forward to a variety of things, from tonight's air show, to talking and meeting with the mentors or Women Airforce Service pilots. A lucky 40 are also looking forward to receiving a ride in the Ford Tri-Motor.
The Women Soar program continues through Sunday.
"We hope that by the end, that the girls have enjoyed the experience," Rihn-Harvey said. "But just as importantly, we hope that they are inspired to stay involved in aviation."