2015 UD Graduate, Double Major – Aviation Management & Flight Operations
Brenda Nava, a 2015 UD graduate with majors in Flight Operations and Aviation Management, grew up in Chicago and as a teen lived near the Midway Airport. At age 14 or 15 made up her mind to pursue aviation- up to this point she had wanted to become a teacher, but being able to see the airport and planes from her home changed her interest. In high school, she worked hard to get good grades to get good scholarships for aviation.
Brenda decided to attend the University of Dubuque after shadowing a female aviation student ambassador, and because UD gave her the best financial package and she liked the small class sizes and trying out a small town. Private Pilot Ground School was her most memorable class: “…not just because it was an introduction to aviation, but because of the friends that I made.” She was president of WIA her senior year, and at different times she was secretary and VP of AER. Both of these provided a lot of opportunities, networking, and scholarships. Brenda is still a part of WIA, has been since 2011. “[WIA] honestly is one of the best organizations that are out there.”
As part of the Wendt Program she volunteered at a middle school in Chicago and would show students she mentored her aviation headset, etc.
In her first flight experience, she was unable to land the airplane because she was too short to see over the dash. At the time, she was too proud to use a cushion, but now, she finally got one and now she can land well.
After graduation, Brenda came back to UD to finish up a few licenses, and was also offered a full-time position at Delta. UD professors, including Polly, took time (unpaid) to help her finish stuff up while she worked for Delta, who allowed Brenda to fly back to IA on the weekends to finish things up. She was able to receive her CFI certification, and is now a full-time CFI instructor.
At UD she presented two posters for Apex – one was for her CIS minor and the other was for her Aviation Senior Seminar about the safety program that airlines currently had in place. What she learned in that safety class translated into what she did after UD – she presented about safety programs. She got an internship with Delta Airlines her last semester at UD related to this and eventually got a full-time job as an analyst for two safety programs she had presented on.
Further helping Delta with her UD background: Brenda’s senior seminar was with Chaminda Prelis, for which she took a class about Tableau, a business analytics software and got a CIS minor. (Teresa Nickeson was her computers professor and encouraged her to pursue the minor.) She convinced Delta to use Tableau in their safety department.
At UD never thought about gender or experienced gender discrimination, but did realize how few females there are in the field – 2 out of 25 students in her ground school class were women. Brenda recalls that when she was an analyst at Delta, the ratio of males to females in her position was approximately 20:1, and as a flight instructor now, she estimates maybe 6 out of every 45 instructors at her company are women.
She said that meeting women who were leaders in the field through Women in Aviation conferences inspired her and helped her put things in perspective. She says she’ll be forever grateful to her UD professors, who really wanted her to succeed, but unfortunately, outside UD, she does notice subtle sexism in the industry. For example, sometimes people assume she is a flight attendant and not a pilot.
Brenda added that there also wasn’t much diversity in ethnicities – she was 1 of maybe 3 Hispanics. Not a lot of Hispanic children are exposed to careers in aviation, those who are face financial obstacles to pursue it. They don’t see role models in aviation who are Hispanic.
One of her future goals is to fly for Delta, or for another company.