High school students fly planes at Kent State aviation camp

India Hines

Female high school students and their mothers had the opportunity to fly airplanes Saturday at the Kent State University Airport as a part of the Nikki Kukwa Memorial Aviation Camp. The camp was hosted by the College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology and Cleveland’s International Women’s Air and Space Museum.

The camp introduces young women, who are underrepresented in aviation, to aviation careers through numerous activities and field trips, said Isaac Richmond Nettey, associate dean of the College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology.

“They know about being a pilot in aviation, but they know little else beyond being a pilot,” Nettey said. “The camp gives them the opportunity to learn about being a pilot, an airport manager, an air traffic controller and about business aviation.”

During the program, participants stayed on campus in Stopher Hall. The mother and daughter duos also took informative field trips to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Kent State Air Traffic Control Laboratory and Parker-Hannifin’s flight department.

They also flew Kent State Cessna 170 planes with the help of Kent State flight instructors.

“The most dynamic experience for them was the ability to fly because it’s something they never expected to do,” said camp director Barbara Williams.

“It was very interesting being in the plane,” said camp participant Cambria Barkley. “It made me consider a career in aviation.”

“It was exciting to see her in the seat of the controls,” said Ronda Wicks, Barkley’s mother. “I would encourage everybody to participate in this camp because you can learn about other careers other than becoming a lawyer, doctor or nurse.”

Williams said the program finished with a formation fly over Risman Plaza in honor of former aeronautics student Nikki Kukwa, whom the camp is named after.

“The camp was created for the continuation of Kukwa’s commitment to increase both numbers and level of involvement from female students in aeronautics,” Nettey said.

The camp was established in 2007 to honor Kukwa, who passed away from leukemia in October 2006, said Susie Dills, executive director of International Women’s Air and Space Museum.

“Kukwa distinguished herself by retaining a coveted place on the Dean’s List throughout her undergraduate studies, and by serving as president of the Kent State chapter of Alpha Eta Rho, and as a founding member of the Kent State chapter of the Women in Aviation, International, also known as the ‘Flying Black Squirrels,’” Dills said.

“This camp lets me share a piece of Nikki, of who she was and her passions,” said Deb Anstine, Kukwa’s mother.

Each year around 20 students and their mothers are chosen to participate in the program. Students have to submit a letter of recommendation, an essay and a high school transcript. Nettey said one of the most important things is parental involvement.

“Having the mothers there exposes them to different opportunities that they did not know about when they were their daughter’s age,” Nettey said. “They will also help reinforce those positive experiences like flying the plane, and if their daughters were to come up against challenges they would be able to support them.”

Nettey said the goal of the camp is to inspire young girls, who are underrepresented in aviation.

“Helping each student to realize they are able to achieve in life,” Nettey said. “We want them to still draw inspiration from this experience and prepare them for all walks of life.”

“My daughter did not have much, but it never stopped her from following her dreams,” Anstine said. “And that is what we want to do for these girls who attend this camp, is to inspire them to always accomplish their dreams.”

Contact India Hines at [email protected].