Organization helps women aviators fly higher

Southern Illinois University



Organization helps women aviators fly higher

April 08, 2013, Elizabeth Zinchuk

Women in Aviation, the university’s branch of the international organization, is an RSO that promotes the active role of women in aviation at the collegiate level. Despite the organization’s name, members encourage everyone to join — RSO president Angela Stearn, a senior from Glen Ellyn studying aviation technologies, said the RSO has as many males as females. The group’s goal stresses supporting women entering aviation-related fields but supports anybody interested.

Stearn said aviation has been a male-dominated field for as long as it has been an industry.

“I think women generally aren’t interested in it as much, partly because they are intimidated by the fact more men are in the field,” she said. “When aviation started off as an industry, women weren’t supposed to be flying planes or even getting involved with it.”

Stearn said many women don’t become involved with aviation because they fear being the minority, but field professionals strive to change that mindset.

“The more we get out there and encourage each other to get involved in aviation, the more we are starting to expand,” she said. “But as of right now, a lot of people say being a woman in aviation is a disadvantage. It takes backbone.”

According to Women in Aviation International’s data, only 6.73 percent of U.S. pilots are women and 21.85 percent hold non-pilot aviation careers.

RSO faculty adviser Rachel Lee said about 10 to 15 percent of the university’s aviation program students are women, which mimics the industry trend. Women in Aviation provides a group where members can support and encourage each other, she said.

“I think having a student group that allows the girls to get together and see that, even though they might be the only (woman) in their lab or section or class they are in, there is actually over 30 something girls in our aviation program,” Lee said. “It helps create the opportunity for them to see that they are not alone.”

The RSO works with faculty and industry professionals to help coach and create mentorships with students, Lee said. Aviation can present obstacles for women who want both a career and family, but through Women in Aviation, students get the opportunity to see women who successfully balance both, she said.

“I think women need a lot more support figuring how to go about making both come together,” Lee said.

Stearn said she became involved with Women in Aviation because she knew she needed to become more active with the university and get to know people who worked at the airport. As president, Stearn saw her role as a way to develop leadership, organizational and time management skills and see more opportunities that aviation can offer, she said.

Stearn said Women in Aviation members volunteer for various causes, including “Expanding your Horizons,” during which members speak to junior high female students about the aviation field. The RSO also attends the Women in Aviation International conference, where members network with branches as well as aviation companies such as FedEx and United Airlines. The RSO fundraises throughout the year so they can attend the conference.

Lee said a couple of RSO members received scholarships and job interviews from professionals in the field at the conference. RSO vice president Courtney Copping, a senior from St. Charles studying aviation management, received a scholarship as a result of Women in Aviation involvement; Copping received the 2012 top female pilot award from the National Intercollegiate Flying Association, as well as the $1000 Candi Kubeck memorial scholarship, in remembrance of the prominent female aviator.

“She’s such a good pilot,” Copping said. “It was a honor to receive the award.”

Copping said she believes women are a minority in the field because of minimal awareness of aviation opportunities.

“I went talking to a school group representing SIU aviation, and in this one girl said ‘Wow, women could be pilots, I didn’t know that!,’” she said. That kind of struck me, like wow, these children don’t know women can be pilots,” she said.

Women in Aviation involvement is an invaluable experience for students who want to become involved in any aviation-related field, such as becoming a flight mechanic, Copping said.

“Lots of opportunities are available for scholarships, jobs … it is just a great career to have and a great organization to be a part of,” she said. “You make memories and it’s a great time.”