Aviation for Girls


Aviation for Girls is a special annual member publication of Women in Aviation International for Girls in Aviation Day. Articles feature young girls living their aviation dreams, career ideas, and education resources.

Issue link: https://afgdigital.epubxp.com/i/1018241

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Page 33 of 39

YOUR CORNER A s an aerospace engineering student with a plan to become a pilot, I was briefly intimidated when I marched into a university classroom and realized I was the only woman and the only person of color there. Yet, since arriving in the United States, I have refused to let fear get the best of me. My country's coat of arms, which often decorates ceremonial shields, says, "We are the fortress." The image shows a lion, representing the king, and an el- ephant, for the queen mother. It gives me confidence that I can achieve any goal I set for myself. I'm protect- ed by pride in who I am and where I come from. That's not to say it hasn't been difficult at times. My campus in Daytona Beach is nothing like Swa- ziland. I need a scholarship to pay for flying lessons, and I see few people who look like me. Universities have struggled to draw more women to fields that have traditionally attracted more men. This includes my studies at Embry-Riddle Aero- nautical University. At my school's two residential campuses, the number of female students has more than doubled over the past 20 years (from 11 percent to 25 percent), but everyone agrees these numbers are still much too low. I've been welcomed at Embry-Riddle. Still, I wonder: What will it take to draw more women into aviation and engineering? Growing up in a small, landlocked country, I understood what engineering was all about, and I was not afraid of it. For that, I have both my mother and father to thank. My mother worked hard to pay for my high school education. My father allowed me to follow closely on his heels—whether he was fixing a bicycle, using farm tools, or tending to animals. I wanted to fix things and care for our family, just like him. I also dreamed of flying airplanes. When I wanted a toy airplane, my father made one from wood. Through those experiences, I learned that en- gineering is a creative process that brings people together. Whether the goal is water filtration, safer cars and bridges, or a toy airplane, it's about working together to solve problems and help people. I was 11 years old when my father died. As I grieved, my schoolwork suffered. At home, I took on many of his responsibilities. At school, I acted out my frustra- tions and exhaustion. I quit school and worked as a housekeeper. Noticing how much I liked to fix things, my employer helped me get a job at an airport. I saved enough money to return to high school and earned high marks on a national pre-college test. Supported by Ashinaga USA, which provides scholarships for African children who have lost one or both parents, I took a 10-hour bus ride to meet an Embry-Riddle recruiter. My dream to study in the United States seemed within reach. In aviation and engineering, as in life, we need both elephants and lions—queens as well as kings, just as they are shown on Swaziland's coat of arms. This is particularly true for Swaziland's growing aviation industry. Earlier this year, Swaziland and 22 other African states established the Single Afri- can Air Transport Market. Someday, Africa could become a leader in aviation, but first, we need to un- derstand why certain African regions experience a high rate of aircraft accidents. Research can provide us with answers. I want to be a part of that solution. Girls should never feel pressured to become engi- neers simply because someone is telling them to do so, but to those who dream of becoming engineers and pilots, I offer this message, from my heart: You are just as capable, talented, and smart as everyone else. Run unafraid toward the future you desire. My Journey From Africa to ERAU's Aerospace Engineering Program by Zandile Z. Sibandze, WAI 72190 32

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