Sep. 25—BRIDGEPORT — The next generation of women in aerospace made their first encounters with the industry at the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center in Bridgeport on Saturday.
Girls in Aviation Day brought girls of all ages out to the hangar, where women with decades of experience in aviation as well as students at the start of their careers were on hand to foster interest in all aspects of flight.
"What we are hoping to do is by reaching out to mainly middle school and high school girls, we want to get them interested in the field of aviation," Kirsten Devano said. She is an employee of MHIRJ, an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul company that does its work in Bridgeport. She was working the MHIRJ table at the event. "Whether it be training to be a pilot, for women in the technician field, I think it's less than 3%, there's nothing that they can't do in this field."
Although this is the 9th Annual Girls in Aviation Day internationally, it's the second one held in West Virginia.
This year, Devano said the organizing group became an official chapter of Women in Aviation International, which is the organization that puts on Girls in Aviation Day. Her hope is to also get a chapter of the organization started in North Central West Virginia, the current one is headquartered in the southern part of the state as the Marshall University chapter.
Devano said a massive need for aircraft technicians exists in the area. Her own company, MHIRJ, is the largest regional maintenance, repair and overhaul operator in the world and is looking to hire more technicians in this area. She hopes that by exposing girls to the world of aviation, it might excite some of them enough to turn them into future technicians. Although there aren't a lot of women in the field right now, Devano said there's no reason why more women can't join the industry.
Available for exploration was a little bit of everything from the aviation world. Flight students from Fairmont State's aviation program spoke on behalf of the work of piloting, while students and professors from West Virginia University walked kids through an obstacle course set up for drone flying. One table was set up to allow guests to build their own gliders out of wood and foam.
Morgan Domenico, a Fairmont State student studying for her commercial pilot's license, said events like this one show younger girls what is within the realm of possibility.
"It makes them realize that it's a lot easier than they think it is to become a pilot," she said. "It's important to show that nowadays not just men are running the aviation field, a lot of women have been coming into it. It's starting to be a more equitable playing field for women."
Domenico herself inherited her love of aviation from her father, who is in the Air National Guard. An early exposure to aviation through airshows instilled that desire to become a pilot for her.
"I don't remember wanting to be anything else," she said. "I think just being in the air, your office is basically in the sky. It's always been something that I've always wanted to do and it's always been super cool. And now I'm actually pursuing it. It's kind of insane."
Lennox Conrad, 10, came to the event with her mother, Kristy. Lennox did an exercise where she sealed the cracks in a piece of aircraft fuselage using sealant. Kristy Conrad brought her daughter as a way to support her burgeoning interest in aviation, which like Domenico's, also stemmed from her father.
"I want to be like my dad, because he's an airplane mechanic," Lennox said. "He's got an airplane, but he works on planes."
Kristy Conrad added that she wanted her daughter to see that she too could excel in a male-dominated field, and that it was good to show her all the options that will open up to her as a career as she grows.
Conversely, Cindy Mason and Cory Wilmoth brought their 13 year old daughter, Saige Wilmoth, in order to set the lead instead of following it. Both parents said Saige Wilmoth has shown an interest in virtual reality, at the event Saige gravitated toward the hands-on drone demonstrations. Their son is a student at the school, which is how they heard of the event. They said that now that their daughter has reached 13, it's time for her to start thinking about future career paths.
Mason said that an event like Girls in Aviation Day was important because it reveals what opportunities exist out there, especially ones that families might not be aware about. She said she didn't know much about the aviation industry until her son started school at Fairmont State. It also provides a path to success outside the traditional 4-year college.
" Technical College is a great, great way for a lot of people to go," Mason said. "College isn't for everybody but the technical college is perfect because it's hands on. I feel you learn so much more that way. And other kids learn better that way. Not all but a lot do. And it's just a great opportunity that way."
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