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Regional Interests

Aviation program offers high schoolers a career pathway

The Hillsboro School District and Portland Community College have teamed up to offer a training program for high schoolers. The Oregon Aerospace Careers for Everyone Program offers students a pathway to aviation careers. The program aims to diversify the aviation industry. Sheri Fisher is a teacher for the program and Ivette Alonso Garcia is a student enrolled in the program. They join us with details.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. We end today with the Oregon Aerospace Careers for Everyone Program. It’s a partnership between the Hillsboro School District and Portland Community College. The idea is to create a pipeline for a more diverse aviation workforce, given that the profession has long been dominated by white men. Sheri Fisher is a pilot and an instructor for the program. Ivette Alonso Garcia is one of her students. She is about to start her sophomore year at Hillsboro’s Liberty High School. Welcome to you both.

Sheri Fisher: Thank you.

Ivette Alonso Garcia: Thank you.

Miller: Ivette first, what attracted you to this program?

Alonso Garcia: Well, I live close to the airport, and seeing airplanes is like a regular thing, and I just wanted to learn more about them. I heard about this class and I was like, this is my chance, this is my opportunity to like find and learn stuff about them. And so I just applied and the first year of school was a blast.

Miller: So what would go through your mind in the past when you look up and see airplanes flying overhead?

Alonso Garcia: Well, I just wanted to learn how airplanes, metal things were up in the sky, how that worked? And I guess that was my first idea, thought, question that I had while seeing an airplane. Just really looking at it and being like “How?”

Miller: Did you go from “How in the world did these big things get off the ground and stay in the air” to “I want to fly one of those?’

Alonso Garcia: Yes, yes. The first year, that’s last year when I was a freshman, I learned about them. I learned about the aerodynamics. I learned how they worked and I was just like “This is so cool. I want to do that.”

Miller: Sheri Fisher, I mentioned that one of the ideas behind this program is to diversify the workforce because it’s been dominated by white men. Can you give us a sense for the demographics of airline pilots right now? How much has it been dominated by white men?

Fisher: Well, I don’t know what the numbers are currently. I think Female pilots make up about 7% of all pilots. The military actually has a little bit better numbers than general aviation and the commercial aviation fields, but it is markedly so that it’s dominated by white men. I think it’s about 5% people of color that we see as airline pilots, so it’s definitely something that we want to change.

Miller: How did you become a pilot yourself?

Fisher: I come from a family of pilots. My dad is a pilot. Both of my grandfathers were pilots. I’m the first female pilot in my family, but I have two children, a daughter and a son. They’re both pilots. So we kind of got bit by the flying bug. I started flying about 7 or eight years ago. I started taking some lessons mainly to support my children, so I could answer questions for them as they were going through.

Miller: You mean they were taking classes and so you figured you would as well?

Fisher: My daughter started flying as a gift from her grandfather. So that’s something that my dad wants to give as a gift for his grandkids is to share his love of flying. So he helps with the lessons. And so then I decided I would also take some lessons so I could answer these questions that she’d come home with. Yeah, so we started flying about the same time.

Miller: What was it like for you to learn to do this thing that seems like a family tradition?

Fisher: I had been interested in aviation back when I was in high school, and it just didn’t work out for me to take lessons. But I lived in a remote part of Alaska where small planes were the way we traveled to and from our cabin. And so I had been around aviation. And then getting the chance to learn how to operate the planes, that was like a dream come true.

I didn’t see a lot of other females when I went to take lessons, and I didn’t see any female flight instructors for quite a while. When you don’t see people who look like you, sometimes there’s a sense that you don’t belong. I just want to make sure that’s one barrier I want to make sure that we tear down. That’s one of the benefits of having this classroom at the airport, is that barrier of not feeling like you belong. So hopefully that’s just like an added benefit.

Miller: Ivette Alonso Garcia, have you felt like you belong? You heard just now that those stats from Sheri Fisher, something like 7% of pilots right now are women and about 5% are people of color. What goes to your mind when you hear numbers like that?

Alonso Garcia: So I am a female and a person of color. So when I hear that, it’s like a goal or a dream that I want to tear down that barrier, like Miss Fisher said. I will encourage other females and people of color to go into this career path, so we could take it down together and succeed. But throughout my learning of aerospace, I have never felt bad being in the classroom, because I have a lot of support with my teachers, my school, my parents, and that’s a good thing to have around.

Miller: Feeling supported. What’s the most interesting thing that you learned last year?

Alonso Garcia: Well just how airplanes work, You know the four forces of flight. And then we also learned about some history of aviation, who were the creators, or who wanted to break the aviation record. It was just so cool, just learning about that.

Miller: Sheri Fisher, can you give us a sense for the job prospects in various aviation jobs that are expected in the coming decades?

Fisher: We’re right on the cusp of some pilot shortages. The students that are going through this program are going to be very well set up to be able to flow into the aviation industry. Now there’s a lot of different jobs in the aviation industry. There’s pilots, they’re the most recognized. We also have a maintenance program. Right now, there’s a lot of jobs in maintenance for aviation. There is air traffic controllers. There’s all the people that work for an airline. You don’t have to be a pilot, you can work for an airline.

But all of these job opportunities, there’s a demand. So one of the benefits for this program is we flow right into Portland Community College. So our students get to go from Hillsboro High School to PCC with dual credit and get through their program a little bit faster. And then from there, PCC has partnerships with some different airlines that they then can have job interviews, and then flow into some of- well, they’ll probably be a flight instructor for a little while, and then some of the regionals and then some major airlines

Miller: Ivette, so as we heard there’s a lot of possible jobs in aviation that are tied to these classes, including different kinds of technicians and pilots. I know you’re just about to start your sophomore year of high school. I had no idea what I was going to do for my life then. But you seem more put together in a lot of ways. Do you have a sense for the kind of job in aviation that most interests you?

Alonso Garcia: Probably a commercial pilot, flying around people like to different countries, places. Or just have a private pilot license and just fly for myself.

Miller: You started by saying that you got interested in this to begin with because you live near the airport and you would just look up and there were always planes overhead. When you see them now, do they look different to you?

Alonso Garcia: Yes. So, back then, I used to see the airplane and be like “wow.” Now I see how they work. Like, “Oh, this does this because of this” or “oh, they’re moving this. So they’re going to the left or the right.” Now, I just see them as if there was a simulation. I would see as if I was actually in there.

Miller: Paying more attention to what’s actually happening.

Alonso Garcia: Yeah.

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