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Student dreams given wings at aviation exposition

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Roswell High School students talk with pilot Guy Jones during the New Mexico Aviation and Aerospace STEM Expo held Thursday at the Roswell Air Center. Jones is one of the pilots of the Chile Flight, a group of private pilots who support community aviation events and educational efforts. They are based out of the Double Eagle II Airport in Albuquerque. One of two F-16 fighter jets from Holloman Air Force Base can be seen in the background. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Dream big, a woman pilot and aviation/aerospace professional told the students attending the New Mexico Aviation and Aerospace STEM Expo Thursday at the Roswell Air Center.

Only 7% of pilots worldwide are women, but New Mexico middle and high school students at the New Mexico Aviation and Aerospace STEM Expo on Thursday could talk with two. Keynote speaker Jill Meyers, left, is an aviation and aerospace management consultant from Albuquerque and a former Air Force aviation engineer who became a pilot at 17. 1st Lt. Aimee “Fox” Fiedler is an F-16 fighter pilot stationed with Holloman Air Force Base who is about to be deployed to Korea. She says about six women pilots and instructors are at Holloman now. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said Jill Meyers, an aviation and aerospace management consultant, during the event’s keynote address. “You are here today to learn all about STEM and all about aviation. … Go and see these airplanes. Talk to the pilots. Talk to the mechanics. Talk to all the folks in the exhibit hall here. And, whatever you do, don’t forget to dream big.”

New Mexico Aero Education, formerly the New Mexico Aviation and Aerospace Association, held the event that brought about 3,300 middle and high school students from around the state, as well as some local college students and at least several hundred exhibitors and other participants. For seven years, the group has been organizing the expo, the nation’s largest dedicated to STEM aviation fields, as a way to introduce students to potential college and career paths.

“Our message here and what we are doing is to get kids to see aviation up close and person — talk to pilots, talk to people in the career field, maybe open their eyes to a future in aviation,” said Bill Shuert, one of the lead organizers of the event.

This year’s theme was “Women in Aviation” to encourage more girls to consider such careers as pilots, aviation or aerospace engineers, aircraft maintenance workers, and airport planners or managers, or emergency or law enforcement flight crews.

Meyers shared her own experience. She had earned a pilot’s license at age 17 while in high school and went to the U.S. Air Force to be a pilot but was told she could not. She became an Air Force aerospace engineer instead, beginning a 30-year career in the field. Now part of her mission is to encourage women into the fields and also to encourage all students to consider Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) studies.

About 32 aircraft were at the event. Those included U.S. Air Force F-16 pilots from Holloman, a U.S. Army National Guard medivac helicopter, a CareFlight medivac helicopter, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol helicopter, gliders and aircraft from the New Mexico Civil Air Patrol, and numerous private planes. Exhibitors included colleges, U.S. military recruiters, aviation engineering and planning firms, National Weather Service representatives, and law enforcement and military emergency response teams.

Some Sidney Gutierrez Middle School eighth-grade students said they found talking to the exhibitors inspiring and empowering.

Savannah Matta, Macy Woods and Caitlyn Prairie said that they don’t know for certain what careers they will pursue, but appreciated a chance to talk with those who have built careers in aviation and aerospace.

“In a classroom, you might learn a little bit about this, but you don’t really get hands-on learning and it is hard for kinesthetic learners,” said Matta. “But here you can see everything and you can ask questions and you can be a part of it instead of reading from a textbook.”

Woods said that she found it interesting to talk to women at the U.S. Navy booth who encourage girls to pursue what they want, while Prairie said that she appreciated that aviation and aerospace fields seem to reward skill rather than make decisions based on gender.

Major supporters of the event included the Roswell Independent School District and the city of Roswell, with Shuert saying that Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell and Jenna Secrist with the Technical Education Department provided a great deal of coordination and assistance. Other businesses and individuals also contributed to the event.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.