Event brings aviation pros from underrepresented groups to campus for conversation, advice
By Mackinney Supola
In the spring of 2020, two UND students saw a need, had an idea and set about making their idea come alive. Meridath Jackson and Sophia Jensen attended the annual Women in Aviation Conference in 2020, and upon returning to Grand Forks, they realized there was a need for a similar gathering at UND.
And from their idea, the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences’ Faces of the Industry summit was born. The first Faces of the Industry event took place earlier this spring, and the second was held Oct. 11.
“This day will help students, faculty and other attendees understand the significance of diversity and how we can come together to make the industry stronger,” Jackson said.
Faces of the Industry is a daylong event hosted and run by students. At the event, aviation professionals who are members of underrepresented groups share their experiences and advice about an industry lacking in diversity. The event’s purpose is to celebrate differences among people in the industry and to generate conversation regarding changes that need to occur.
While Jackson and Jensen created the event, they produced it with help from others. Student leaders from Women in Aviation, the Latino Pilots Association, the National Gay Pilots Association, Professional Asian Pilots Association and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals came together to organize and moderate the event. Some of the main student leaders include Angelica Joven, Maxwell McKoy, Harley Jiang, Charlie Williams, Jordon Gyapong and Jimena Carreon.
The day included three Q&A panel sessions along with a closing speech from the keynote speaker, Eric Poole, JetBlue captain and chief pilot for the airline’s Newark base. Panel members included Delta, United and Endeavor pilots, the CEO of Women in Aviation, a U.S. Air Force captain and many more.
More than 300 students attended in person and even more saw the speakers online.
Leadership in aviation
The first panel focused on leadership in aviation, highlighting successful leaders from their fields. These individuals shared their insights on what makes a good leader. For example, Claudia Zapata, vice president of the Latino Pilots Association, said that “the greatest asset to a leader is compassion.” The CEO of Women in Aviation, Allison McKay, spoke on her life and career, highlighting the point that “you don’t always have to be the loudest person in the room, but when safety is a concern, you need to find your voice.”
All six of the individuals agreed with the statement made by Eric Hendrick, director of Pilot Outreach, Recruitment and Selection for Delta Airlines, that “the aircraft does not care about your gender, race or political affiliation.”
The second panel focused on women in the industry and featured female aviators from multiple generations. Experience levels ranged from a senior airline pilot to one of UND’s flight instructors, a recent college graduate. These women were asked to share their perspectives on topics such as sexism on the flight deck and how to balance a family and a career.
Lisa Kemp, Horizon Air captain on the Q400, spoke on dealing with comments such as “you fly well for a girl,” plus how she has incorporated strategies to end these microaggressions into the Crew Resource Management class she teaches.
Jacquelyn Emery, a certified flight instructor at UND, spoke about being one of the few females in her classes as well as among her fellow CFIs.
“We need to have other females around for employees to feel comfortable, whether the situation is that you need a tampon, you need a role model, or you need someone to talk to so you don’t feel so out of place,” she said.
Awards for excellence
Following the second panel, awards were given out during an award ceremony. The Advocacy Award was given to Meridath Jackson and Sophia Jensen, commending their creation of the event. Associate Dean and UND Professor Elizabeth Bjerke received the Bridge Award, recognizing her work in helping Jensen and Jackson make Faces of the Industry a reality.
And the Legacy Award was given to Sue McGrath, United Airlines’ senior recruiter for Aviate and pilot hiring. (Aviate is United’s career development program for pilots, offering aspiring and established pilots the most direct path to a United flight deck.) Multiple students spoke highly of Sue’s compassion toward UND students and said she always has their best interests in mind.
The third and final panel focused on all angles of the industry and highlighted areas of aviation other than the pilot path. On this panel, there was a representative from the Executive Jet Division of Embraer, the Brazilian company that is now the third-largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft in the world; the senior vice president of the National Business Aviation Association; a United Airlines A320 instructor; and more.
These individuals encouraged the audience to stay open to all possibilities in their careers.
“Sometimes it’s enough to walk into the room and be the representation you have never seen; but sometimes, you have to take action,” said panelist and U.S. Air Force Capt. Laura Acevedo, when she spoke about her own career.
Flight plan for the future
The day concluded with an inspiring message from the keynote speaker, Eric Poole. A UND alum, Poole shared his life journey, including the story of how he was born in a small village in Korea and later was adopted by a family in Minneapolis. Poole also reflected on his experiences as a minority in the aviation industry.
While attending UND on an athletic scholarship, Poole was first introduced to the world of aviation. He decided to pursue his licenses and ratings at UND and was hired as a flight instructor soon after completing his training.
Poole was one of the six individuals hired out of 110 applicants. He spoke about the years he spent as a Navy officer before he found his home with JetBlue, where he earned his captain’s stripes within two years. Poole spearheaded the JetBlue Pathway Program to give UND students a path to fly for JetBlue.
Faces of the Industry was made possible through the hard work of student leaders, faculty and panelists. Organizers say the event will continue to grow, and the next one is scheduled for next fall.
“My hope for the future of this event is to inspire the members of our industry to be more inclusive of the different perspectives that a diverse environment creates,” student leader Angelica Joven said.
About the author:
A certified flight instructor, Mackinney Supola is working toward bachelor’s degrees in Commercial Aviation and Communications at UND. She’s currently a marketing intern in the Dean’s Office at the University’s Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
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