My week ended with a fantastic experience at a charter school with a great name–the Making Waves Academy. I was invited to present to 70 “wave makers,” – 7th grade students, all Latino and African-American, enrolled in a summer program to expose them to curriculum and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM.)
I was asked to present my own challenges as a Latina born to undereducated parents, who dared to dream a bigger vision of my life and who found ways to make it happen. Specifically, I was asked to share my military aviation career with the kids and connect it to the STEM curriculum they are now undertaking.
I titled my presentation ‘The STEM of Aviation.” I shared the cultural, financial and academic challenges I faced as a teenager. I shared specifically HOW I overcame them and who helped me. I encouraged each student to seek out mentors, to associate with friends who have college-educated parents and to ensure there are adults around them telling them they are college material. I shared deeply personal stories of familial resistance to the oldest daughter leaving the state for the halls of U.C. Berkeley hundreds of miles from home. I shared photos and stories of where that fabulous career took me in the world. I showed how elements of each S, T, E and M relate to aerodynamics, avionics systems, weather, physiology, navigation and more.
But the best parts came at the end, with amazing questions from the students and the donning of REAL Air Force flight suits, gloves and scarves.
Among the question I was asked were these:
- What did you do in middle school to prepare for college?
- What did your parents want you to be when you grew up?
- How did you decide you wanted to fly for the military? and, the killer question
- Was there ever a point when you wanted to give up?
That last one was tricky! I answered it with my philosophy that has gotten me through the most difficult times: “Remind yourself that you’re on a time line that never stops and that nothing lasts forever. If you’re at a moment in life when something is unpleasant, difficult, boring or unbearable, persevere and remind yourself that ‘somewhere in time this is already over.'” I think they liked that.
The last fifteen minutes were spent snapping photos as three kids at a time donned my flight suits, gloves and scarves and said things like, “Whoa dude, you look great!” and “That flight suit looks great on you!”
What fun! I am blessed to be able to do this work, to inspire young people and to expand their horizons far beyond their current circumstance.
I look forward to more opportunities like this. That you Dr. Evelyn Wesley and team!