By Ariel Graham | DFW Newsflash | October 2019
Irving — Girls Soar Aviation Day encouraged girls to reach for the skies at the C.R. Smith Museum in Fort Worth on Saturday, Sept. 21.
“Today we are hosting girls in grades eight through twelve,” Marie Eve Poirier-Harris, coordinator of STEM education at the C.R. Smith Museum, said. “They are coming to be exposed to women in aviation. Women who are blazing a trail in either aviation or STEM fields. We are hoping we’re going to plant some seeds that are going to grow and help them make a choice for their career.”
In addition women in aviation, the museum also featured a number of STEM-focused activities and interactive exhibits, including flight simulators and binary code “jewelry.”
“Three years ago, we launched our very first girls’ aviation day,” Poirier-Harris said. “At the time, we were targeting a little bit of a younger audience, but we saw there was a need for older girls for this kind of event as well.
“It’s great to get them when they’re younger, but it’s also important to prepare them for the next step. This event is the stepping stones into launching into your new career and transforming your dreams into a reality.”
Retired pilot Captain Vera Verbel was a pilot for over 33 years, flying mostly out of Chicago to international destinations in Asia and Europe and briefly serving in the US Army flying Apache helicopters.
“One day, I found myself at the Ann Arbor Airport, where the University of Michigan is, where I was attending school,” Verbel said. “I watched a little jet land and these two people, the pilots, were milling around. In those days, you could just walk out to the airplane and say hi. I was expecting to find demagogues, but they were just people like me. It kind of did something to my mindset and I said, ‘Oh, I can do this too,’ so I started doing it.”
Verbel was amazed to see so many young women with a genuine interest in aviation, a far cry from when she was growing up.
“These are quality individuals who know what they want,” Verbel said. “That’s a little bit different to see than from when I was a young teenager. It’s kind of a social commentary, and I like what I see. I enjoy encouraging and promoting that within them. That’s been the best part so far.”
“They’re not saying, ‘I want to be a flight attendant,’ or ‘I want to be somebody in food service.’ They’re saying, ‘I want to be a fighter pilot,’ or ‘I want to be an aeronautical engineer and design the aircraft.’ In my day and age that was typically left to the guys. Women wouldn’t even consider them and now these young women are saying, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’”
Student pilot Julie Kabel was excited to see not just the young women interested, but to also see the families supporting them.
“I enjoy seeing mothers and daughters here together and seeing the daughters really focused on wanting to be either a pilot or aircraft designer or just have a career in aviation,” Kabel said. “I’m impressed by their maturity and their focus.
“I think flying is empowering. Once you take an airplane off the ground, and you’re the only person in there, it’s up to you to land it and there’s something that happens inside of you. You figure that out, and you land it and then you take off again. I think it’s a wonderful accomplishment, and it sets the stage for many other accomplishments after that.”
Poirier-Harris hopes this event will inspire more young women to pursue a career in aviation.
“The number of graduates in STEM fields is slowly dwindling,” Poirier-Harris said. “Girls in particular are an amazing group. They have amazing potential. We want them to know these choices are open for their careers.
“It’s hard to dream of becoming an engineer if you don’t really know what it’s all about, and you don’t know if it fits your personality and your likes and dislikes. We like to say in this industry it doesn’t matter what you’re good at there’s a place for you. If you’re good with computer games, that’s how we train our pilots. If you’re good with social media, we have a whole social media team that works 24-7 for the airline.
“We’re trying to start with what they love, what they’re passionate about. Then we show them the opportunities for their future.”