Two young women who are working toward their private pilot certificates have been awarded 2016 Ceci Stratford Flight Training scholarships under the AOPA Foundation’s Flight Training Scholarship program.
Ava Michl, 18, of Helena, Alabama, and Heather Shaw, 26, an Idahoan studying aviation at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, exemplify the aspirations that aviation benefactor and 40-year pilot Ceci Stratford intends her scholarships to support, while ensuring “that general aviation will continue to serve our communities and pave the way to careers to which many pilots aspire.”
For Michl, a dream “that soared through the living room” as she watched episodes of Star Trek as a youngster with her father now sits at her fingertips in the cockpit of her training airplane.
Michl recently graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average from the math and science department of the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham. As a senior she also was able to conduct research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham—winning four research competitions and having an abstract published in the National Junior Academy of Science.
Michl, who commuted 1.5 hours twice a day for five years for school, intends for her research work in the university’s Biobehavioral Pain Research Laboratory’s study of pain sensitivity in individuals with HIV to be part of the foundation of a pre-med track beginning this fall with the study of neuroscience at the university’s Honors College.
Honored as CAP’s cadet of the year for Alabama, she has been a cadet squadron commander and a volunteer at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, assisting with demonstrations and summer camp programs.
Working part-time while taking on her student curriculum helps her accomplish her flight training goals, she said, noting that her father had set an example as the first member of his family to graduate from college. (He is still repaying student loans, she noted.)
After earning a pilot certificate Michl hopes to own an aircraft and fly it on humanitarian missions such as volunteer flights for Pilots for Patients, an organization that provides free air transportation to patients in need of diagnosis and treatment at distant locations.
Heather Shaw was a single mom of a four-year-old daughter, and making “a comfortable living” in aircraft quality for the manufacturer of a single-engine turboprop when she went on an orientation flight with a co-worker three years ago in a Cessna 172.
“He later stated that the smile on my face once we rotated was the biggest he’d ever seen,” she recalled.
Having grown up as an adventurous person in the Idaho mountains, and having become “addicted” to aviation, she began taking flight lessons, often bringing her daughter along.
Those enthused responses to flying apparently run in the family. “Her expression of utter joy was enough to drive me to become very serious about my flight training,” Shaw said.
To get the most out of her aviation lifestyle and the career path it was pointing toward, Shaw recently made the big decision to uproot herself and her daughter from their comfortable Idaho existence and relocate to Longview, Texas, where Heather is now enrolled in an aviation program at LeTourneau University.
Now a 70-hour, soloed student with a “full load” of academic courses, she is learning her skills in the cockpit of an airplane that represented quite a transition from her previous tricycle-geared trainer—a tailwheel Citabria 7ECA.
She said she has a long-term goal of working as a test pilot, and also wants to return to Idaho to start a flight program “specifically targeting young women.”
“The world needs more young women pilots,” she noted, adding, “If I can motivate one girl to build a life around aviation I would consider my career in flying complete.”