Taking flight

K-State Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus is working to recruit and retain women for the aviation industry.

Roughly 5% of airline pilots are women. And only 3.6% of captains are women (FAA). But K-State is changing that balance.

Kansas State University Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus is combatting the lack of female representation by supporting current female aviators and recruiting the next generation of women to the aviation industry.

For K-State Salina professional pilot major Katie Dehn, aviation was not a career, or even a hobby, she considered until her freshman year of high school. As a freshman, she took a 30-minute ride with a pilot and discovered her passion.

Finding her wings

Receiving a scholarship to K-State Salina was one of the main reasons Katie decided to attend K-State. In addition to scholarship support, Katie immersed herself in opportunities that support women in aviation.

Katie is president of the K-State Women’s Air Race club. The all-female race takes place in the summer when pilots fly 2,500+ miles in four days and network with other female aviators.

Katie has also participated in the annual Fly Kansas Air Tour, a flight to nine Kansas cities in three days. Spectators come to see the planes and interact with the pilots, but Katie sees the event as a chance to talk to visitors about her major and the K-State Salina flight community.

Building the community

The campus’ support of women in aviation extends beyond current aviators. K-State Salina introduces the idea of aviation careers early in life.

Girls in Aviation Day is a free event for girls ages eight to 18 to explore career possibilities in conjunction with Women in Aviation International. The girls connect with others interested in aviation careers, meet women in various fields of aviation and participate in hands-on activities such as flight simulators.

“Women are just as capable of excelling in the aviation industry, and we are working hard to prove that to the world,” Katie said. “Having the support of both men and women in the aviation industry is helping to grow the representation of females in aviation. With the growing number of females in the aviation industry, I believe it impacts everyone by showing females that they are capable of anything, no matter the challenge.”

As the need for pilots, technicians and cabin crew members continues to rise, advancing women in aviation brings a unique talent and needed support to the industry.

“At a time like now — when there is a major demand for pilots — looking to the least represented groups, such as women, can be a solution,” Katie said.

Experiences such as the air race club are largely made possible through donations. This year, six K-State female aviators will participate in the summer air race, thanks to the support of the Student Governing Association and philanthropic donations. Continued support would enable more clubs and events for women in aviation, while also helping to offset the cost of aviation education.

“For me, my ability to pursue a career as a professional pilot would have been hindered without the generous scholarship received from K-State,” Katie said. “Encouragement, support and philanthropic donations are critical to increasing the number of women pursuing careers in aviation. I would not be where I am today without the generosity and experiences made available to me while working toward my professional pilot degree and my dream of having a career as a pilot.”

To support Women in Aviation, give online or contact Galen Bunning at galenb@ksufoundation.org or 785-775-2138.

*First published in fall 2021.

I am interested in these topics