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Women Soar Encourages Girls to Follow Dreams

By Katie Holliday-Greenley

July 24, 2017 - Every year since 2005 Women Soar You Soar has invited high school-age girls to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh to inspire them to get involved in aviation.

“Whether they like aviation as a hobby or want to pursue it as a career, there are opportunities and activities for everyone during the day camp,” said Tara Parkhurst, EAA’s museum educator and coordinator of the event.

When it began, Women Soar You Soar was only two days long, which included a dinner and a series of forums highlighting the aviation careers of the presenters. Now, the four-day event, July 23-26 this year, includes hands-on workshops, tours of the EAA Seaplane Base and AirVenture grounds, and even a low ropes course.

“It’s a great education and an experience for them, and that’s what we want,” said Debby Rihn-Harvey who’s worked with the event since 2006.

This year, a small group of participants was invited to take a ride in a Tri-Motor Monday morning, and all the girls jumped up from their seats as the aircraft taxied in to pick them up.

“I’m just really excited to be here,” said Lucy Weicheot, a 2017 Women Soar You Soar participant. “The program’s really great helping young girls decide what they want to do, and if it’s really what they want to do, it’s a pretty amazing thing.”

Women Soar also invites successful women in the aviation and aeronautical sciences fields to mentor the young women in the program. These mentors represent a wide range of aviation career opportunities, including airline pilots, air traffic controllers, engineers, women who fly for Pilots N Paws, and a variety of other professional and recreational aviation outlets.

“I’ve tried since I’ve been a part of [Women Soar You Soar] to get mentors who are diverse in their professions or their experiences,” Debby said. “That way you can get the girls where they think they want to go, or an interest that they think they’re interested in, and they can really dive into that with some of the mentors.”

Participants are also invited to take part in WomenVenture activities, such as the Power Lunch and the Women in Aviation International Connect Breakfast on Wednesday.

“We want attendees to engage in aviation and enjoy it as much as we do,” Tara said. 

Debby said she wanted to incorporate a tram tour of the AirVenture grounds this year so attendees can see all aviation has to offer.

“I want them to see what EAA is made up of, and how important that is because the vast size and the number of volunteers it takes and the number of communities that there are is just unbelievable and unimaginable,” she said.

Rachel Wierzbinski, whose father, Brian Wierzbinski, is EAA’s CFO and executive vice president of operations and administration, said she’s excited to learn more about the different types of aircraft found all over the grounds, and participate in the workshops.

“We’re doing really cool workshops,” she said. “There were a lot of really good options, so that was a really hard decision to make because they all sound really cool. I’m in the welding one, so I’m excited to learn how to weld.”

Women make up less than 10 percent of the pilot population, and Women Soar You Soar is striving to close the gender gap by introducing more young women to aviation each year and encouraging them to follow their dreams.

Senior Director of AOPA’s High School Aviation Initiative Cindy Hasselbring has been a Women Soar You Soar mentor since 2010, and said to her, the program is, “Critical to the success of aviation in the future.”

“With dwindling numbers earning their [pilot certificate] every year, we need to work on broadening the pipeline by expanding diversity,” she said. “Women Soar You Soar does exactly that. Additionally, many of these girls are already serious about aviation, but don’t often know what steps to take, and they don’t know anyone who is in aviation other than the mentors at Women Soar You Soar. This camp is a huge encouragement to them, and helps them to not feel alone in their dreams of flight.”

Debby said it’s often especially hard for young women to get the encouragement they need to pursue their passion for aviation.

“The girls and mentors both discuss obstacles they overcame to achieve their dreams,” said Brenda Lea, an aerial photojournalist who has been a Women Soar You Soar mentor since 2007. “Women Soar You Soar gives these young ladies the opportunity to meet women already working in the aviation industry and forge important relationships that will help guide and encourage them throughout college — and their first job interviews.”

“Aviation is touchable, and I think that’s the biggest thing to get across,” Debby said. “It might not be in their norm of life. They may never have been around any of that kind of stuff. But it might just spark an interest, and if we can do that and light a fire … then we’ve done our job.”

Registration for next year’s Women Soar You Soar, which will be July 22-25, 2018, opens tomorrow. Space is limited, so be sure to sign up right away to reserve your spot while locking in the 2017 price of $75.

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