Girls build STEM self-confidence and explore aviation careers during CR Smith Museum’s camp

Partnership between American Airlines, CR Smith Museum and Girls Inc. Tarrant County sparks STEM and aviation interest among girls.

Engineer. Flight attendant. IT programmer. These are some of the dream careers girls from Girls Inc. Tarrant County shared when asked what profession they wanted to pursue as they closed out a week at the CR Smith Museum’s Aviation STEM Summer Camp

The Museum hosted 20 girls, ages 8 to 13, at its week-long program last week. The purpose: To help girls build self-efficacy and self-identity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“Self-efficacy is the feeling that you have what it takes to do something,” Museum Education Director Marie Eve Poirier-Harris said. “Girls are underrepresented in STEM. Even in this day, they are prone to thinking STEM careers are for boys. Our camp program inspires girls to pursue STEM careers by starting with self-efficacy: We create an environment where girls can build their self-confidence that they are able to do this.”

The program consists of hands-on science and engineering workshops, field trips to explore American’s operation and mentorship opportunities to build the girls’ self-confidence. Girls also work on a week-long 30,000 Foot Challenge, a big project that allows them to create a solution to a problem in the aviation industry.  

Early exposure to STEM fields helps girls dream big 

“Exposure to career opportunities early on helps girls see at a young age that what they see is what they want to become,” said Kris Canfield, Chief Development Officer at Girls Inc. Tarrant County. “Their dreams start becoming realities when they start to think, ‘Oh, this is something I CAN be.’”

Girls Inc. began focusing on early exposure to STEM education and careers after finding a critical gap in the community, Kris said. Girls needed more exposure to STEM trades, certifications and local female mentors. 

Daisy [left] attends flight attendant training.

Daisy, a 6th-grade student attending school in the Arlington Independent School District, has participated in Girls Inc. Tarrant County for two years. She is also involved in STEM programs at her school and engages in summer camps.

“My favorite subjects are reading, writing and science,” Daisy said. “I have two careers I want to be — either a cancer doctor or epilepsy doctor.”

Daisy said she wants to pursue the medical field to help kids in need. 

“My favorite thing at camp was learning about flight attendants,” she said. “During the flight attendant session, they were teaching us how to use CPR. I can use what I learned as a doctor.” 

Exposure to the operation, careers and female professionals

During daily field trips, girls explored functions in the aviation industry at the Robert L. Crandall Campus in Fort Worth, Texas, and American’s hangars, Ground Control and Customer Care Centers at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. 

American Airlines team members, especially women, volunteered time to connect with girls to share more about their jobs and journeys.

Anna Gomez, Senior Program Director of the STEAM, and College and Career departments of Girls Inc. Tarrant County, stressed the importance of seeing women in STEM professions. 

“One of the things we highlight in our programs is showing the girls that there aren’t a lot of women in the STEM field,” Anna said. “Being exposed early on, especially to women in the profession, can help them dream and think, ‘That can be me one day.’”

Girl poses in front of landing gear.

Jess Ast, Manger in Compliance and Quality Assurance at American, volunteered to run flight simulators so girls could try their hand at flying an airplane. 

“I’m passionate about young females because there is an incredible amount of wealth from their minds, creativity and curiosity that brings new views to the table,” Jess said.  

Jess was inspired to pursue aviation from a young age after seeing her father become a pilot. 

“Exposing these young girls brings awareness to what is even out there. When I was young, I did not realize or understand the dynamics of aviation,” she said. 

Jess started her career by attending flight school to become a pilot. But after an internship with the FAA, she instead pursued a path to support American’s operation in the Flight department, holding roles in safety, training and compliance. 

“It’s a beautiful industry and incorporating the talent of young girls will shape the success of the future,” Jess said. “In the end, I hope they find a sense of curiosity in something they learn this week that sparks their interest to make something more of it.”

Jess [center] shares her career story with girls during camp.
Girls surround Jess to learn about flying using a flight simulator.

Making something more of it is something Girls Inc. Tarrant County takes seriously. 

“Camp is exposure for us because now we can take what they learned and build it into the curriculum throughout the school year and not let it be forgotten,” Kris said. “We can also have the women come to our office and do mentorship, so the girls learn the steps in the process. Then, when they’re looking for what’s next, we can share certification programs and things they can do out of high school. It builds; the fun field trip moves to a complete career pathway.”

Fully funded opportunities help change lives

Exposure is the first step. To allow girls in underserved communities attend the Museum’s camp, American Airlines fully funded the girls’ camp experience. 

The partnership with the Dallas-Fort Worth chapters of Girls Inc. dates back to 2017 when American earmarked funds to support girls in the local community and their pursuit of STEM professions. 

“Partnerships like this are super important because it allows the girls more of the hands-on piece,” Anna said. “This week has been packed with life experiences they can take away that we wouldn’t have been able to provide without the partnership.”

Support and outreach to increase the number of females in STEM and aviation professions is a broader effort at American.

Departments across the operation put a concerted effort to expose kids of all backgrounds to the various opportunities in the aviation industry. Field trips to the Museum are integrated into programming so kids learn about the airline’s history and career pathways within the operation.  

For example, American’s IT department has been a partner of W.H. Adamson High School’s P-Tech Program for six years. The program supports students year-round.

Girls explored the hangar at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and met aircraft maintenance technicians to understand their role in the operation.

During the school year, students engage in speaker series, workplace readiness and facility tours led by American team members. Beyond the school year, students also gain access to mentorship, internships and a pathway to a career in American’s IT department. This year, 16 students are participating in paid summer internships in various IT areas; nine are girls. 

American’s Technical Operations department also conducts outreach to schools nationwide to raise awareness about careers and connect students to professionals, including aircraft maintenance technicians and engineers. And, chapters of American’s Professional Women in Aviation employee business resource group are instrumental in fostering partnerships at the local level with organizations and schools focused on empowering girls to pursue STEM.

The sky is the limit

As for the girls who participated in the Museum’s Aviation STEM Camp, the exposure and mentorship inspired them to consider future careers in aviation. Following presentations of their 30,000 Foot Challenge, they reflected on the week and talked about their confidence in STEM and future careers. 

“Seeing females doing the job they want and chasing their dreams makes me feel good,” Daisy said. “I feel that it can be me one day.”

Girl testing VR headset used in training.

The affirmation that they too could pursue STEM careers was infectious among the group. Although a study wasn’t conducted during this year’s camp, a recent one done in 2019 showed a 206% increase in interest among Girls Inc. participants in STEM careers post-programming. 

“I hope the girls gain the confidence to pursue different career paths in aviation,” Kris said. “After learning about companies like this that offer career pathways and pour into their staff, I hope these girls are the [future] pilots, work in baggage claim, or the mechanics, or work on the marketing team. And, we can say it started with this [camp].”

Press contact: media@crsmithmuseum.org.