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Women’s History Month: Celebrating Trailblazers in Aerospace and Aviation

News > Women’s History Month: Celebrating Trailblazers in Aerospace and Aviation

Former Air Force Military Pilot Lieutenant Colonel Olga Custodio’s personal mantra, “Querer es poder: Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” is a theme seen throughout the lives of three women Gleim will be highlighting this year for Women’s History Month. These three women’s fierce, fighting spirits and passion for inspiring younger students to explore aviation paved the road for future generations of women to pursue a career in aerospace and aviation.

Last month, Gleim highlighted Bessie Coleman, the first African-American aviator. This month, we will begin with Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut, who was inspired by Bessie Coleman throughout her life.

Mae Jemison’s journey to become an astronaut was not an easy one. Like all of the women in this month’s blog, Jemison fought to find footing in a world where women are underrepresented. Born in Alabama on October 17, 1956, Jemison grew up spending time in her school library reading about science while developing her talents in dance. She attended Stanford University, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and went on to receive her M.D. from Cornell University. In school, Jemison was often the only African-American woman in her classes and faced racial discrimination from her professors. While an astronaut with NASA, Jemison was a crewmember on the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992, and carried a picture of Bessie Coleman with her on the flight as a tribute to the pioneer. When Jemison’s career at NASA ended in March of 1993, she became a professor at Dartmouth College and founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation (DJF), which focuses on science literacy and sponsors The Earth We Share, an international science camp for middle school students. She encourages the development of problem solving and critical thinking skills, which are crucial to a 21st century learner.

Another aviator who inspired Mae Jemison is Sally Ride. Ride beat out 1,000 other applicants to be selected as a member of the first class of women to join NASA as a part of the NASA Astronaut Group 8 in 1978. A Stanford University graduate, Ride became the first American woman in space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983 and remains the youngest American astronaut to have travelled to space. Ride trained to become an astronaut in the backseat of a Northrop T-38 training jet, learning navigation and communication procedures. Like Jemison, Ride had a passion for inspiring young women to pursue their interests in science and math. She founded Sally Ride Science, a company that offers science programs for upper-elementary and middle school students, with a focus on young women. The Sally Ride Science website houses hands-on classroom activities, and the foundation offers a summer program, the Sally Ride Science Junior Academy, for students in grades 3-12 who want to study in STEM fields.

Following behind Jemison and Ride as one of the trailblazers in the industry, Lieutenant Colonel Olga Custodio is the first female Hispanic U.S. military pilot. A former United States Air Force Officer, Custodio was also the first female Hispanic commercial airline captain of American Airlines. She had to overcome several roadblocks to achieve these dreams, starting with attempting to join the University of Puerto Rico’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), where only men were being admitted at the time. While working in the accounting department at Puerto Rico National Air, she met her husband, who encouraged her to go to the Air Force Personnel Center to apply for the United States Air Force Officer Training School. Once admitted, Custodio received approval to become a United States Air Force Pilot. She went on to become the first female T-38 Instructor Pilot. She excelled as a pilot and was so talented at maneuvering a jet that she was awarded the Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship. Just as Jemison and Ride before her, Custodio serves as an inspiration for young students to explore civilian and military aviation careers.

Gleim celebrates the accomplishments of these female aviation pioneers. Their tenacity propelled them to the heights of their fields and beyond, helping to pull up the next generation of female aviators. Gleim Aviation is committed to helping young women succeed in aviation and STEM careers. Our simulators and instructional materials can be found in over 500 schools, providing a path for aspiring students to enter aviation fields. As we expand our engaging curriculum for high school students, the Gleim Aviation STEM department seeks to further its mission to reach all students and encourage them to look to the skies for their future!

For more information and FREE education resources, visit the Gleim STEM Resource Hub.

Written by: Maureen Shankman, STEM Coordinator

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