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From left: Anna Cook, Dana Friend, Claire Reader and Kristen Cunningham (Photo Credit: Kelly Kerr)

Women leading the way in OSU’s aviation student organizations

Friday, December 16, 2022

Media Contact: Kirsi McDowell | Senior Communications Specialist | 405-744-9347 | kirsi@okstate.edu

For the 2022-2023 academic year, all three Oklahoma State University aviation student organizations have female presidents — and so does the College of Education and Human Sciences Ambassadors student group. 

Females represent 16% of the entire undergraduate enrollment in OSU’s Aerospace Administration and Operations major, but students Anna Cook, Claire Reader, Dana Friend and Kristen Cunningham are shining in leadership positions. 

Though their interests are similar, the women have varied beginnings in aviation and are each on a unique path post-graduation. 

Claire Reader and Dana Friend both found their passion for aviation during their discovery flights and while Kristen Cunningham grew up flying with her father, she has opted for a path in aviation management and security. Anna Cook was introduced to flight by her father as well, and is also continuing on a path in aviation management and security after serving in the U.S. Army.

While the prospect of being one of few or the only woman in a room can at times feel daunting, these students take their circumstances in stride. 

Friend, a professional pilot student and president of Women in Aviation, says that being a female in this program doesn’t differ much from that of her male counterpart, but it comes with one caveat.

“What's important as a woman in aviation is paying it forward to future female students and taking the steps to close the gap on what keeps this field male dominated,” Friend said.

Cunningham — an aviation administration and operations student with an option in aviation management and minor in aerospace securities — serves as President for the College of Education and Human Sciences Ambassadors student group.

Cunningham said being one of the few women in the aviation program is an opportunity to  serve as the inspiration for the next generation of female aviators. 

“I never knew of any female pilots or really any other girls even remotely interested in aviation until I arrived at Oklahoma State,” Cunningham said. 

Friend noted the importance outreach efforts play in introducing the aviation industry to prospective students. 

“It's important to highlight women in aviation so others can see someone who looks like them progressing in their dream field," Friend said. "It's important for women in aviation to be in solidarity because in the 119 years since aviation has been around, still less than 8% of airline pilots are women.” 

These women found their own means of outreach through leadership roles, not only shedding light on the industry but forging their way into aviation careers with critical skills they may not have otherwise developed.

Cook, president of American Association for Airport Executives (AAAE), took on her role in response to the needs of the organization. While she initially sought leadership by way of becoming secretary or treasurer of the group, she soon found that there was a need for a new president. She rose to the occasion despite her own hesitation. 

“I’m grateful to have had supportive advisors in Paul Priegel and Dr. Chad Depperschmidt,” Cook said. “They have had my back from the moment I showed interest in becoming president of AAAE and have since become mentors I can rely on. Without their confidence in my potential as a leader, I would not be where I am today.”

As for taking on a leadership role alongside other female students majoring in aviation administration and operations, Cook says she is proud of them all. 

“I think that it's great to see women take on roles that have been predominantly held by the men in our school. It’s honestly impressive considering the demographics of our program.” 

Friend agrees with the sentiment and finds motivation in seeing her peers take on leadership roles. “We can rely on each other, cheer each other on and come together in our shared passion of aviation. It's inspiring.”

Friend participated throughout high school in WAI’s North Texas chapter, and was excited to continue her involvement in a new chapter at OSU.

“Thanks to the acting president during my freshman year, our group was officially recognized by Women in Aviation International. Sophomore year I became the secretary, and for the 2022-2023 academic year I’ve been trusted with and voted into the position of president,” Friend said.

“The networking, professional development, scholarship opportunities, annual conferences, mentors and the friendships made in WAI have impacted a large part of my college career,” Friend said. “I owe a lot of my professional growth to this organization.”

For Cunningham, the guidance of her Ambassadors advisor has been pivotal. 

“It was shared with me that there is a difference between being a boss and a leader. This has stuck with me and drives me to be better than I was the day before. I aim to have a servant heart and to be approachable. I do my best to support my students and Ambassador team so I can help them on their own paths to success,” said Cunningham. 

Scott King, coordinator for student development & retention in the Watson Family Student Development Center, said participation in student organizations enhances the undergraduate experience in that it provides an opportunity for students to connect with one another outside of the classroom setting. It's more relaxed and the students are leading the conversations compared to a faculty member in class. 

“These three aviation student organizations have a large networking focus," King said. "Leadership skills developed in these organizations are amazing life lessons as these students spread across the nation and world to be leaders in the aviation industry.”

Reader, president of the Flying Aggies, is proof of leadership development within the organization. She joined as a member during freshman year and progressed to vice president before serving in her current role.

The most beneficial skills I've acquired throughout my various leadership roles with Flying Aggies have been the communication and people skills,” Reader said. “When leading a group of officers, you get to work with people with all sorts of life experience. Getting to know each officer on a personal level allows you to do a better job of creating an effective and cohesive team of people.”

As for the advice they would give to prospective female aviation students, their responses remained consistent — work hard, take any opportunity that comes your way and get involved on campus. 

“It can be easy to convince yourself that you don't belong or that you're out of place, but those beliefs are baseless. There might be a few people who look down on you, but there will be infinitely more people who look up to you,” Reader said. 

On a similar note, Cunningham added, “Let what sets you apart be what drives you forward. Strong women are not made overnight, take time to learn your own strengths and play to them.”

Though not the first women to hold leadership positions within OSU’s aviation organizations, these students are providing an example to all of the young girls with a dream of flight. With continued forward progress, hopefully one day the gap in the number of females in the pilot seat and aviation management positions will come to a close — one Cowgirl at a time.

For more information about OSU’s aviation programs and related student organizations, visit the School of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Aviation website.

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