Women of the sky: Female pilots thrive in aeronautics

Juliane Calapa

Being a woman in a predominantly male career field might steer some down a different, more comfortable path. Not Marissa Mehal.

Mehal, a Pittsburgh native and a senior aeronautics major concentrating in flight technology at Kent State, knew early on in life that she wanted to be a pilot.

“My grandfather, who was a pilot in the Navy, sat me down and we looked through a book of airplanes and I was like, ‘That’s really cool,’” Mehal said. “He always had stories to tell. So ever since then, all I wanted to do was fly.”

Approximately 40,000 out of the 600,000 certified U.S. pilots are women, which equals about 6.61 percent of the entire pilot population, according to statistics from Women in Aviation, International.

At Kent State, 60 out of 566, or 10.6 percent, of students studying aeronautics in the spring 2015 semester are women, according to Kent State’s Institutional Research.

Aeronautics Academic Program Director Maureen McFarland said aeronautics is already a great career field and being a woman in aviation offers numerous job choices and opportunities. Kent’s College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology currently offers majors in aeronautic studies, aeronautical systems engineering technology, air traffic control, aviation management and flight technology.

Mehal said being a woman in aviation gives her a lot of pride because women are often discriminated against as pilots.

“We are very outnumbered,” Mehal said. “It makes you feel good when you can come in and be as good one of the boys, or even better. It just means a lot to be a woman.”

Meighan Little, a senior aeronautics major concentrating in flight technology, agreed with Mehal.

“Being a woman in aviation means so much to me,” Little said. “It’s starting to become more of a common thing, but our generation is still primarily in the age of it being a male dominated field. It’s exciting to be a part of.”

Mehal currently serves as president of the Women in Aviation student organization.

“This year, we had a good turnout with about 15 members,” Mehal said. “We do a lot of things, but the one big thing that we do is attend the Women in Aviation conference in Texas. It’s a huge networking opportunity to meet women in aeronautics from all over the world.”

The organization’s members also take part in fundraising events, airport tours, the Aviation Heritage Fair at the Kent State Airport and mentoring for students interested in aviation at Stow-Munroe Falls High School in Stow, Ohio.

In their educational career at Kent State, Mehal and Little both said they never faced any discrimination.

“You get those jokes about being a girl or whatever, but as long as you can fly as good as the boys or better than them, it’s no big deal,” Mehal said.

“I don’t doubt that discrimination happens to others,” Little said. “I’ve heard stories from other people in the aviation community that not all men are accepting of it, as if it’s not really ‘our place.’ But, I would 100% tell all women out there interested in aviation to just do it and get involved. It’s a remarkable thing that not most people say they get to do and it’s worth every second.”

Contact Juliane Calapa at [email protected].