NASA Leaders Inspire Girls to Fly Toward STEM Careers

By Matina Douzenis
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Women at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the 2023 Girls in Aviation Day by hosting a special visit. A flight of 131 girls, ages 12 to 18, landed at the world’s premier spaceport on Sept. 22, to spend the day learning from women in aerospace and aviation careers.

This is the second year in a row that the Delta Air Lines Women Inspiring our Next Generation (WING) program traveled to Kennedy to hear about the STEM experiences of some of NASA’s brightest women in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“We want to show young women that they, too, can reach for the stars,” said Jennifer Kunz, NASA Kennedy’s associate director technical. “Every woman at NASA has their own story, but each of them started out just like these girls – with an inquiring mind and the drive to follow their dreams.”

For this experience, Delta Air Lines invited schools and aviation organizations with a strong STEM focus that are local to Atlanta, the airline’s hub. The day began with an early wake-up call and departure from the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. After a short flight, the 737 aircraft – operated by an all-female crew – touched down on the historic runway at the spaceport’s Launch and Landing Facility, the same runway that welcomed shuttles home during the Space Shuttle Program.

The girls and their chaperones then boarded buses for a photo opportunity at Launch Complex 39, including Pad 39B, where the first woman and first person of color will hitch a ride on the Orion spacecraft and start their journey to the Moon during the Artemis II mission.

After visiting the pads, the group stopped by Kennedy’s Space Station Processing Facility to hear from a panel of six women representing various career fields at the spaceport. Panelists included Kunz; Director of Exploration Research and Technology Barbara Brown; Director of Human Resources Janet Sellars; Guidance, Navigation and Control Engineer Ale-scia Winsley; and Human Resources Specialist Lakeesha Flowers. Each of the women shared their respective role at Kennedy and one piece of advice that has guided each of them in their careers. Stay flexible and adaptable, take up space, don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside, and where you come from shouldn’t cloud where you’re headed were just a few of the words of wisdom.

The teens also enjoyed lunch with Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the Artemis launch director.

“When I think about exploration, I think about you all, the Artemis Generation,” Blackwell-Thompson said. “One day, not too far from now, you will be the reason an astronaut, and not a rover, is capturing a photo from the surface of Mars.”

Before reboarding their plane for their return to Atlanta, the girls spent the afternoon experiencing the past, present, and future of space exploration at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The WING program launched in 2015 after the Delta Air Lines Manager of Pilot Development Beth Poole and Delta Pilot Cheri Rohlfing talked about the lack of female presence in the airline industry – specifically, pilots. This became their call to action. This flight marks the seventh trip that Delta has supported through the WING program.

“If you like what you see, and there are folks here today that inspire you, think about your future.” Poole said. “The world is your oyster.”

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