Friday, March 19, 2010

Women Fly (Guest Blog)


This Girls with Wings Guest Blog: Women Fly, comes from GWW Role Model and Scholarship winner, Kam!

On March 6, I attended Women Fly at The Museum of Flight in Seattle’s “annual special event for young women interested in aviation and aerospace careers. Girls are invited to participate in a day of motivational and career-oriented activities that will allow them to meet and learn from professional women working in a variety of flight-related careers.”

How the day works out:

Dozens of middle and high school aged girls spend the day at the museum first attending, hour long career oriented workshops in the morning. Topics range from Boeing Field tour, FAA accident investigation, to helicopters. Followed by a panel discussion, lunch with mentors, small career and college fair, and an optional tour of the museum.

Facets of Aviation:

This year’s theme is international women pilot. The capstone of the event was a 6 person panel discussion:

Michelle Bassanesi (Italy) – Bassanesi is the founder of Aviation and Women in Europe. Bassanesi is a flight instructor with experience flying paragliders, hang gliders and airplanes.

Kajuju Laiboni (Kenya) - Co -founder of Women Aviators in Africa

Refilwe Ledwaba (South Africa) – A co-founder of Women Aviators in Africa, in 2006 Ledwaba became the first black woman helicopter pilot for the South African Police Service Air Wing.

Harumi Sato (Japan) – Sato is a flight instructor and has flown as a commercial pilot in the United States and as an airline pilot in Japan.

Fran West (Australia) – West is the first woman pilot to circumnavigate mainland Australia in a light aircraft. She is also an author, photographer and motivational speaker.

Jennie Steldt (United States) – Capt. Steldt is a United States Air Force pilot who flew the first C-17 Globemaster airdrop on Antarctica.

Karina Miranda (Chile) - Lt. Miranda is the first woman to fly for the Chilean Air Force. (Karina was unable to attend due to difficulty leaving Chili after the recent earthquake.)

The panel included young women in their 20’s and 30’s at the beginning of their aviation life, which surprised me. A younger crowd was a refreshing change, most panels I’ve attended have participants with decades of experience. No offense to our “mature” mentors, I’m simply jazzed at concept that one does not need decades of flying experience before being valued enough to share wisdom. Student pilot Kajuju Laiboni hails from Kenya and South African Police Service helicopter pilot, Refilwe Ledwaba , showed much enthusiasm over the budding organization, Women Aviators in Africa. Learn more about them at

The panel represented a wide range of pilots, from general aviation to military, to civilian commercial pilot, displaying a colorful array of women aviators in various roles. I can tell you that as a teenager, I did not know that flying is available to anyone outside the military. Common misconception.

*As a side note, my opinion is that panel discussions should never exceed 4 guests, ideally there should be 3. With six people plus a moderator, even with abbreviated introductions, there left little time for individual questions. I would have loved to hear more about each pilot, 6 minutes each was not enough to explore such a distinguished group of women. Group dynamics naturally defaults to one or two vocal speakers who field all the incoming inquiries.

New Role for Me

As a past employee and continuing volunteer at The Museum of Flight, I’ve worn many hats at Women Fly through the last decade. Registration table staff, workshop facilitator, Xerox girl, “next slide, please” girl, you name it, I’ve done it. 2010 marks my first year as a mentor. Even as a student pilot, I have a way to give back to my community. I’m glad I didn’t fall into the thinking that I need to be “accomplished” before becoming a mentor.

During the lunch portion, girls and mentors are assigned to tables. My table had three mentors, two seven graders, one freshmen, two college students. It was awkward at first, trying to draw out reserve young women into conversation. It took a bit of work to break the ice, but eventually they opened up and our table stayed together well after lunch in deep conversation, giving guidance to the girls with their dreams. The general theme I felt from the middle and high school crowd was their strong drive and desire for science and aviation, but lack of direction in applying their energy. They all wanted to “do something” but don’t know how to start. We were able to point them to opportunities in Young Eagles, local internships, job shadows, and NASA programs. We shared an empowering day inspiring one another. I treasured my chance to assist girls who mirrored my younger self, passing on the words of encouragements that I received from members of my community.

I look forward to next year’s Women Fly when I can return as a certified private pilot (fingers crossed!) If you have a chance to attend Women Fly, I highly recommend it. Please see The Museum of Flight’s website for more information.

Picture of Kam with her daughter, India.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:42 AM

    Since I was the moderator for the Women Fly program in Seattle on 05 March, I would like to offer some corrections to Kam's otherwise very good blog.

    First, the date was Friday 05 March (not 06 March). (However, we did have a public program using the same panel on Saturday 06 March, with Leslie Barstow as the moderator).

    Second, we had SEVEN panelists (not SIX). Kam totally ignored the contribution of Ruth Morlas, originally from Ecuador, who filled in for Karina Miranda (from Chile who was unable to attend due to the earthquake).

    Third, in spite of having SEVEN panelists, we (the Women Fly committee) were told by Museum leadership that this was still the best Women Fly ever. When we chose the topic of "women from seven continents" we accepted the fact that the panel would be the size it was. If Kam had attended the public program the next day, when we had 90 minutes instead of 60 minutes for the panel, she would have seen the interaction that she criticized not happening the previous day.