November 29th, 2010

airplane outside

teaching women to fly

neuro42 send me this link to survey results on the topic, "Why Aren't More Women In Aviation?"

And you all know that I love surveys.

And aviation!

And in my life, there's one bigger question I'm constantly dying to answer: what makes a person technical? Why aren't more people (male and female) interested in the cool stuff I'm interested in... science, technology, engineering, math (otherwise known as the STEM fields)? I think flying airplanes fits into that question.

A very cool part of this particular aviation project is that it actually proposes some solutions: Top Ten Ways to Increase Female Success in General Aviation

My first favorite idea in there: fill the role model issue using social networking. It says we need "a no-cost, readily-available database of female mentors for female general aviation pilots-in-training" I would like to give some points to Lynda Meeks for starting this up at Girls With Wings. Not only is there a wonderful forum there ("Radio Calls"), but a page filled with role models and fabulous personal stories. I even e-mailed one of her role models after I got my license to say "thank you" because her story assured me that becoming a pilot wasn't a simple thing, I wasn't supposed to be born with a magic knack for it, flying takes blood sweat and tears and that's okay! That page is one of the things that kept me going.

Second favorite idea: "Make the flight school-FBO atmosphere more female-friendly with more emphasis on enjoyment of the flying and social experience.... Cold, framed art of rockets and jet planes flying does not create a welcoming or social environment for women students and pilots."

I never considered this before, but I think it's an incredible suggestion. And so simple! At my flight school they gave out little trophies when a student soloed. It had your name engraved on it, and a gold airplane. They'd make your trophy and set it out on the desk in the hall we all walked through to get to the dispatch room. I see pictures of airplanes every day, but when I saw those little trophies I was always kind of inspired, like, "That'll be me someday." I also joked with my instructor that when my trophy came out, I was definitely going to "forget" to pick it up for a solid week so everybody and their dog would walk by and see my name there... if nothing else I'd make the pre-solo students jealous like I had been.

The point is that I was more inspired by seeing names and knowing people would see my name than by the actual trophy. I don't know if that's a female thing or not, I just know engineering departments would seem a lot more "human" if there were names of actual engineers... bonus points if they look like me. I loved hearing about other students hitting milestones, it made me feel like we were all progressing. It was happy.

SWE has learned that to get girls into engineering, we need to help them "see themselves" as engineers. Quit talking about the inputs (math + science = engineer) and talk about outputs: engineer + kid = kid-sized pacemaker for smaller hearts! engineer + flat prairie = sustainable wind farm! And show examples. Flying is the same way. We should feature personal accomplishments, and make flying a human thing. That's what's really amazing about being in the air: your personal experience and what you make it. I love the message.