One of the first things Girls Inc. of Oak Ridge, Tenn., did after receiving a $10,000 AOPA Foundation Giving Back grant was to start its yearlong aviation program for girls by offering members a ride in a hot air balloon.
Oak Ridge is in an area centered on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), with a lot of female engineers living in the area, said Executive Director Rhoni Basden. The city is home to a Department of Energy nuclear and high-tech research facility, NOAA’s Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD), the Y-12 National Security Complex, the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, and the American Museum of Science and Energy.
So after several attempts Girls, Inc. created the Sky Girls program, which is now funded by the foundation grant. “We originally came up with a big board of ideas, and broke them down on what we could do with $10,000. We realized we could do everything we planned,” she said. “This program is our way of bridging the gap.”
The first event was the hot air balloon ride, said Basden. “We wanted to start with something big and showy for the girls to get them excited about everything else to come,” she said. “We discussed with them the mechanics of a hot air balloon, then have it here so they could physically experience it.”
Now that the event is done, future activities include visiting the air traffic control tower at Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport, learning Morse code, and celebrating Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman with a history day, said Basden. “We’ll also have two female pilots speak to the girls, we’ll visit the Tennessee Museum of Aviation in Sevierville, and we hope to take a trip to Huntsville, Ala., to visit Rocket City,” she said. “We’re also working with the local [Ninety-Nines] chapter to do some hands-on projects, and we’ll do a big aviation science fair for the community. We want to get our girls excited about aviation and its career fields.”