Thursday, July 25, 2013

Women In Aviation at Trident Tech

by Candice Bizzell
       When you walk around the 920 building of Main Campus, you may run into many other students wearing Boeing attire. Don’t be surprised. Trident Technical College collaborates with Boeing to provide specialized training and skilled workers for the company. In addition, TTC offers much more than that in the field of aircraft maintenance. The college also offers classes to prepare students for certifications by the FAA.  With Boeing here, and GE and Rolls Royce soon to come, the field of aviation is rapidly expanding, opening up new opportunities for women. The Lowcountry Aviation Maintenance Association (LAMA) and Women in Aviation (WIA) encourages them to get into the field.

For ten years, only two percent of people in the field have been women. According to the FAA, the statistics show that out of the 686,717 non-pilot certificates attained in 2010, women acquired only 150,019 of those. That’s only two percent of the certificates held in 2010, and the percentage didn’t change from 2001.
However, LAMA works to change that by encouraging the community in general, and women in particular, to see opportunities in the future of aircraft maintenance. Seven LAMA women, Sandy Markovich, Laura McIntyre, Carille Carlton, Patti Ammons, Hillary Price, Jennifer DeVito and Lorelei Stork, recently spoke to me about getting into the aviation field, the challenges and rewards that come with the field and being a LAMA and WIA member.
These seven women are just like many other college students who walk the grounds at the Berkley Campus in Moncks Corner. They have families, studies and lives that they want to live, but they are in a field dominated by men. However, getting into the field was not a question of gender for these women. They chose what was best for them.
Breaking into aviation mechanics wasn’t a hard choice for Markovich. She said, “I saw that Boeing was coming and other companies like GE and Rolls Royce, and I just saw the future of it. I thought: Why am I going to go into a field that has no future? I’m going to go somewhere you can grow within a business.”

But the studies don’t just stop there. The technologies in the field are much like a computer. Carlton observed, “A lot of the AITP (Association of Information Technology Professionals) students also have the option to get their avionics degree.” And Carlton knows that in this field, “When you have both your Avionics and you’re A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) Licensed, you are guaranteed a job. They want that, the industry wants both assets.” 
Carlton was awarded one in only five scholarships from Snap On Tools this past spring, a scholarship worth over $4000 from Snap On Tools; the scholarship is administered by the Northrop Rice foundation. More information about the scholarship can be found online at the Northrop Rice foundation website.
It didn’t even faze the women to know that they make up only two percent of the people in the aviation maintenance field. In some ways, it has inspired them, and pushed them to succeed despite the challenges they face on a daily basis.
In this field, women face challenges and obstacles beyond what the average student would face.  When I asked what kind of challenges they face as women, DeVito thought of “brute strength” first. The group then chuckled and unanimously giggled, “sometimes.”
For others, it was childcare. It sounds like something out of the 1960s, but it’s the truth.  It’s a challenge that faces McIntyre as a new full time mom and A&P student. Not only was her being a new mother a challenge for her but for the other women in the class when she would pump her milk in between classes so that her baby could eat healthy while she was at school.
Most of the women work too. Stork challenges herself by being a full time student during the day and working at Boeing at night full time.
Women are not abundant in the aviation field, and it can be hard for them to be accepted, even when they are advanced students. DeVito, a student and a Lab Tech at the Berkley Campus, remembered a time when an older male student came into her lab to paint. She tried to give him some pointers, but he became defensive. Later that week, he returned to her to apologize and admit that he really did need help. It’s at this point that she felt more accepted into the field.
Others agreed. “You do initially have to prove yourself in some way,” Price states. Price is the recipient of the 2013 Southwest scholarship, awarded to her from an essay she wrote for the scholarship. She will be training for two-weeks in Dallas, TX, with Southwest airlines and Boeing.
Being in LAMA makes the transition easier for the women, even though the club itself is challenged with limited exposure and visibility in the community.  Joe Taylor, the LAMA President, explains that the field’s biggest obstacle is awareness. “Because the bottom line is aviation awareness in the Lowcountry, and that is basically what our focus is here. So we can let them know that this school does exist for folks in our community. It’s a great career field, with Charleston being the forefront and with Boeing being here, this will be an aviation city. In the next 20 or 30 years, it will be even bigger.” Fortunately, the women’s involvement with the club has come with great rewards with the service projects they work on. 
LAMA is going forward this year with several community projects. This past spring they worked with the Military Magnet Academy high school students to restore a Vietnam War-era UH-1 Huey Army helicopter located on the high school’s campus in North Charleston. Taylor has big plans for the future of the club, but right now his main goal is to bring awareness to the club and get its members more involved, something that all the women look forward to.
The challenges don’t outweigh the benefits that these women get in this field. These women united together to encourage each other to excel, from one generation to the next. They look up to each other as comrades and heroes. They pride themselves with being able to juggle family, school and work.  None of these women feel as if this career is hard for them. It is what they love to do, and it is who they are.
They have their futures mapped out and know that in two years, they will be set on their path as an A&P mechanic with nothing to stop them. In this field, “Once you have both (you’re A&P and Avionics licenses), it’s like having a nursing degree, you can go anywhere” Ammons explained.
Not only are these women breaking the barrier for females in the aviation mechanics field, but also they are encouraging others in the community of all genders and races to get involved. All of them are members of LAMA and some are WIA members. 
With the field of avionics growing in the Lowcountry, it is a wise decision for any information technology student, mechanic and pilot to look at to further their knowledge with TTC’s certification and associates programs. And women are especially encouraged to pursue this field, not only within TTC but also within companies such as Boeing, GE, Southwest and other aviation companies. To learn more about LAMA please visit their website. If you are interested in getting started in this career field talk with one of the instructors of aeronautical studies.  With these women getting involved is not an obstacle it is their reward.


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