My Experience at the Women in Aviation Conference

By scholarship winner Chelsea Montgomery

I am so honored to be able to share my experiences after having attended the 2020 Women in Aviation (WAI) International Conference this past March through the Abingdon Foundation’s It’s About Time Scholarship. After finding out about the It’s About Time Scholarship through Facebook, I knew it was an opportunity I did not want to pass up. Ever since my first Women in Aviation Girls in Aviation Day at age sixteen, I have realized the importance of and felt very strongly about women in STEAM fields, especially aviation. I have taken the time to study past and present aviatrixes and admire Ruth Nichols for her impact of founding Relief Wings, Sally Ride for her contribution to aerospace science, Galina Korchuganova for keeping women active in aviation when men were pushing them out, Elinor Smith for being the youngest pilot at 16, and Amelia Earhart for her courage and wise words, “the most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity,” just to name a few. 

After reading through the Abingdon’s foundation mission and vision and application requirements, I immediately knew what I wanted to propose; a way for interested, young women to achieve success in their endeavors and goals by not just telling them how to get involved, but giving them the materials and resources to get started. Since the application is open-ended and creativity was encouraged, I felt I could use my skills and knowledge to further the Abingdon Foundation’s mission and vision. 

Prior to attending the WAI conference, I had just obtained my private pilot’s license and was training for my instrument rating. Fast forward a year, I am currently a CFI and CFII out of the Mesa-Gateway airport in Arizona. If it were not for the Abingdon Foundation and the It’s About Time Scholarship, I do not believe I would be where I am at in my career today. The conference led to many connections, resources, and amazing opportunities that have helped me succeed in my career.

In addition to instructing, I am currently a member of AOPA, EAA, NGPA, the 99s and Women in Aviation. I volunteer annually at the EAA State Fair booth, Treats for Towers, and Girls in Aviation Day. I recently shared my love of aviation by speaking to students about aerodynamics and helped to organize a field trip where I coordinated a Young Eagles event for Girl Scouts. Additionally, I am working on a business model for an aviation themed subscription, “Skybox,” that will encourage historically underrepresented groups in aviation to take the next steps in achieving their dream. Like the Abingdon Foundation and all the wonderful women that compose the Abingdon Foundation, I strive to influence, encourage and embolden women and other underrepresented groups in aviation through my volunteering and outreach. Moving forward, I hope to inspire others to realize that becoming an airline pilot is an option for everyone no matter background or circumstances.

Now back to the conference….! Getting the call from Denise Wiktor that I was the 2020 recipient of the It’s About Time Scholarship was a moment I will not forget. At one point during the call I had to pause and ask her if she was “serious” ha-ha! Flying in from Arizona and it being my first conference, I did not know what to expect. As an introvert, I was anxious about attending and introducing myself to others, but after being picked up at the airport by Natalie Berman and dinner with the Abingdon crew the first night, I felt like I was right where I belonged! All of the amazing women involved with the Abingdon Foundation have so many experiences, connections, and accomplishments and I enjoyed getting to know each of them while also hearing about their journeys. They made me feel so welcomed, introduced me to many new, amazing people, and made my experience one I would never forget. 

At the conference and as a pilot in training, I never considered all the other women in aviation, who are not necessarily pilots that make the industry what it is (dispatchers, mechanics, astronauts, etc.). I knew this beforehand, but at the conference, I discovered that the aviation industry is really small, tight-knit, and almost always, there is one-degree of separation. I have always liked and wanted to work in an industry that is bound together by strong relationships and common interests.

The WAI conference was unlike any aviation event I have ever been to. The conference was eventful, non-stop (in a positive way), and very busy! I was so glad my first introduction to the conference was such a positive one with the Abingdon Foundation because I already know I want to go next year, despite it being a virtual event due to the pandemic. I met many women in the industry including mechanics, dispatchers, astronauts, women in the Air Force, flight attendants, airport managers, etc. The list is endless! I made so many professional connections through the event as well as met many flight students in the same stage as me (working on instrument, commercial, CFI, etc.) that I will stay in touch with throughout my career. The conference also had many AMAZING and inspiring guest speakers as well as education sessions. Personally, my favorites were attending the Spirit breakfast with Natalie Berman, Stephanie Chung’s keynote speech, President of JetSuite, Inc, and Stephanie Goetz’s education session on leadership and influential speaking. Even after the educational event, speeches, and presentations, the conference did not stop! Abingdon was kind in bringing me to the NGPA and  Annual Flight Suit Social gatherings in the evening. 

Based on the connections I made at the event, I know that there are an infinite amount of ways to help and volunteer my time to get women more involved in aviation. In the future, I would like to be President or Vice President of a Women in Aviation chapter and continue my volunteering with Girls in Aviation Day. Like Abingdon, I would also like to be involved in WAI at the international level (possibly as a board member someday)! During the pandemic, I have started a blog and YouTube channel telling people about my experiences in aviation, training, and tips to finance training (since it is VERY expensive). I would like to continue sharing my experiences to not only women, but everyone who wants to get involved in aviation. Aside from continuing my volunteering with WAI, NGPA, the 99s and EAA, I would like to continue my outreach to the younger generations about the infinite amount of opportunities in the aviation industry. Now that I have made many contacts at the WAI conference, I can give those I have interactions with the resources and contacts to take the next steps whether it be in maintenance, the Air Force, aviation management, or becoming a pilot, like myself!

Being my first Women in Aviation Conference and as a woman just starting out in the industry, I did not know what to expect. Looking back, I am so thankful for being able to attend my first conference with the Abingdon Foundation. Not only was the application process fun and engaging, but the conference pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to meet many inspirational women as well as explore all of the possible paths in aviation.

Overall, the experience, knowledge, and connections I gained through the It’s About Time Scholarship are more valuable than any monetary award. I know the conference only lasted a weekend, but the connections, memories, and experiences will last a lifetime! 

 If you are interested in STEAM careers, hobbies, or opportunities, The Abingdon Foundation’s future goal is to build the largest free resource gatherings to anyone looking to learn about opportunities in STEAM while increasing their scholarship program to build on the STEAM fields that are part of their focus. I highly encourage you to reach out and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. With every opportunity comes the chance of learning new skills, rounding out edges, and increasing your perspectives. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my experiences at the 2020 Women in Aviation International Conference! If you would ever like to fly together, connect, or chat about all things STEAM, I am more than open to meeting other like-minded individuals. Feel free to add me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/chelsea-montgomery/) or email me at chelsearmontgomery@gmail.com.