Expanding Horizons

FedEx, Spirit Airlines’ scholarships encourage diversity in aviation

Amaya Newport left her home in New Hampshire knowing exactly what she wanted to study and where she needed to go.

“As someone who has always enjoyed airplanes and hands-on projects, this university is perfect for me. I came to Embry-Riddle specifically for my major of aviation maintenance science,” Newport says.

Newport is a minority in the aviation industry. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, approximately 7% of certified pilots and 2.4% of aircraft mechanics in the United States are women (2017). With the industry facing a shortage of skilled workers, women represent a relatively untouched labor market.

That’s one reason why FedEx and the Spirit Airlines Charitable Foundation have created scholarships at Embry-Riddle that are aimed at supporting and encouraging more women to pursue aviation-related careers.

“It’s predicted that we could face a shortage of AMTs [aviation maintenance technicians] in the next five to 10 years due to an aging workforce. Should that time come, we want to be in good position to pick and choose from a qualified, skilled and talented pool of applicants,” says Scott Ogden, vice president of aircraft maintenance with FedEx Express.

Scholarships for Women

The FedEx Purple Runway Aviation Scholarship is awarded to aviation maintenance science students at Embry-Riddle, with a goal to expose women and other underserved populations to aviation careers, while the Spirit Airlines Charitable Foundation has funded two scholarships, with a preference for female students.

“This scholarship allows me to be one step closer to meeting my goals and to concentrate more on my studies,” says Newport, who received a FedEx Purple Runway Aviation Scholarship.

The FedEx Purple Runway Aviation Scholarship aligns with the company’s apprenticeship and recruitment programs. “Scholarship winners have access to FedEx team members during their time training here. Those students are exposed to a variety of careers in aviation,” Ogden adds.

Students working on a turbine engine.
From left: Tea Galon-Walraven, Andrew Guggenheim and Andrew Masterson, who were all awarded the FedEx Purple Runway Scholarship, work on a turbine engine.

Building a Diverse Workforce

Aeronautical science student Hailey Auterson was thrilled to become the first Spirit Airlines scholarship recipient.

“This scholarship is very important,” Auterson says. “Going through college and becoming an airline pilot is very costly, but I am determined to find a way to earn my degree no matter what life throws my way.”

President of the Spirit Airlines Charitable Foundation Laurie Villa says students, like Auterson, represent the future of aviation.

“We believe that change starts by giving back in the communities where we live and work, and part of our mission is to inspire women to go into the field of aviation, aeronautics and STEM. This will ensure that our industry continues to be diverse, inclusive and equitable for everyone.”

The mentors of the Aeronuatical Science Women’s Ambassador Mentoring Program, from left, Brittany Porter, Libby Rogers, Anna Wolff, Lindsay Cosby and Alina Gagliola.
The mentors of the Aeronautical Science Women’s Ambassador Mentoring Program, from left, Brittany Porter, Libby Rogers, Anna Wolff, Lindsay Cosby and Alina Gagliola.

Female Initiatives

Attracting and retaining more talented female students is a university initiative, as well. Women comprise roughly 23% of Embry-Riddle’s collective undergraduate student body (residential campuses).

“Given the pilot shortage that we’re facing, it’s critical that we tap into the entire potential talent pool and do a better job of recruiting more women into the pilot pipeline,” says Michele Halleran (’04), a professor of aeronautical science and the director of diversity initiatives for the College of Aviation at the Daytona Beach Campus.

Halleran leads the university’s Women’s Initiative Committee. Composed of female faculty and staff, the group’s mission is to recruit, retain and support female students.

A mentoring program for aspiring female pilots was launched in 2019. Other initiatives include a university-wide Women’s Giving Circle, which will raise funds for scholarships for female students, and a Women’s Alumnae Network.

To get involved, contact Stephanie.Kenyon@erau.edu.