The Air Up There Podcast
Career Aspirations at Rising Aviation High

Season 6, Episode 11

There is power in mentorship! In this special podcast episode, 13-year-old Isabella from Rising Aviation High School and FAA aerospace engineer Karen Perez engage in an insightful discussion about aspirations, mentorship, diversity, and the limitless possibilities in aerospace.

How did we get here? Isabella wrote a letter to us to share what her school does to attract students to various fields in aviation and how she hopes to inspire more women, especially Hispanic and Latina girls, to pursue STEM. 

In an engaging two-way interview, Isabella shares the discovery flight that solidified her desire to become a pilot when she took control of the aircraft, and her advice for students with similar interests. Karen takes us on her journey to becoming an aerospace engineer at the FAA, reveals her proudest career achievements, and offers advice for those interested in aerospace.

When a young person sees someone who looks like them doing what they desire to do, it makes it seem that much more attainable. With great mentors, their dreams can come true. The FAA encourages mentorship and provides invaluable support through our student programs

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Meet Our Guests:  
Isabella Onyskin is a freshman at Rising Aviation High School, an educational program that combines the foundations of science, technology, engineering, and math with aviation-related studies and practical applications. She aspires to pursue a career as an airline pilot. 

Karen Perez is an aerospace engineer in the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space, where she evaluates license applications for leading U.S. commercial space launch companies. Karen actively participates in STEM outreach programs and serves as the Regional Chapter Director for the National Hispanic Coalition for Federal Aviation Employees (NHCFAE) Capital Chapter. Karen has a Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Miami.

Disclaimer: Reference in this podcast to any specific commercial product, process, service, manufacturer, company, or trademark does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. government, Department of Transportation, or Federal Aviation Administration. As an agency of the U.S. government, the FAA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any specific product or service. 

The Air Up There: Career Aspirations at Rising Aviation High
Career Aspirations at Rising Aviation High
Audio file

Karen Perez: What do you think is the most exciting experience you've had as a student in your school?

Isabella Onyskin: The discovery flight I went on. That was my first time ever doing a flight in such a small plane. Our principal took me and three other students up in a Diamond DA40. So, we got to do like a 45-minute trip and just fly.

Karen Perez: So, you took the actual controls? 

Isabella Onyskin: Yes. 

Karen Perez: That's so awesome.

Isabella Onyskin: That's when I knew I wanted to be a pilot.

DaiJah Metoyer: That’s Isabella, a student at Rising Aviation High School in Texas and our guest for today. 

Lucy Jabbour: Joining Isabella is Karen Perez, an aerospace engineer who works in the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

DaiJah Metoyer: And she's our host for this special mentorship edition of The Air Up There. 

Various People: This is your captain speaking. The feeling I get when I’m flying is just; you get an adrenaline rush. Seeing something fly is awesome. It’s incredible to be able to fly. Flying airplanes is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I get so excited about aviation, aeronautics, space, engineering, and tech. Like star gazing and just wondering what it would be like to be up there. I just fell in love with it. Stick with your passion and pursue it. Just know you can do it. There is not a room, there is not a cockpit, there is not a place that you don’t belong. There’s certainly a place for everybody in aerospace.

Lucy Jabbour: In this special episode, we feature a student who wrote us a letter. Isabella’s letter reads in part: 

DaiJah Metoyer: My name is Isabella and I am 13 years old. I wanted to let you know about my high school and what they are doing to attract not only future pilots, but students who are interested in the different roles the aviation industry has to offer. I currently attend Rising Aviation Highschool in Addison, Texas. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a pilot, so being able to be part of this school is a dream come true. Right now, women make up less than 5% of all pilots in the industry and that number goes down considerably when you look at how many Hispanic female pilots there are. I want to change those numbers and show other young Hispanic girls that they should not shy away from the STEM field and that they too can be part of the aviation industry.

Karen Perez: Can you tell us about your aviation school?

Isabella Onyskin: So, my school is Rising Aviation High School. We're actually located on the Addison airport. So, we have a teacher, Miss Hernandez. She's our certified flight instructor and she does all of our, I would say, ground school and just introduction to aviation, courses and stuff. And then we have just like regular core electives and then we partner with a flight school as well. So, they help us get our flight hours. We do a lot of different field trips. So, just tomorrow, we're going to the American Airlines training facility. And we've been to the Southwest training facility as well and got to tour their locations. 

Karen Perez: What do you think are the most memorable things that you've been learning about aviation so far?

Isabella Onyskin: When we learned about, like the space programs that are happening. So, we learned all about like the history of space programs, and then what advances they're making. The technology that they're using for them.

Karen Perez: Isabella, I love that you're excited about aviation. You're curious about it. So, how did aviation capture your attention?

Isabella Onyskin: So, my dad was in the Navy, like my entire life. He was an in-flight technician. So, I would always be on like naval bases and we'd always go to different aviation events and museums. And I think that really contributed to like my love for aviation. And then the summer of like, 2022, I believe, I went to a summer camp at the school I currently attend and that really like solidified my love for aviation.

Karen Perez: What do you think is the most exciting experience you've had as a student in your school?

Isabella Onyskin: I'd say, the discovery flight I went on. That was like a really interesting experience for me. That was my first time ever doing a flight in such a small plane. Our principal took me and three other students up in a Diamond DA40. So, we got to do like a 45-minute trip and just fly.

Karen Perez: So, you took the actual controls? 

Isabella Onyskin: Yes. 

Karen Perez: That's so awesome.

Isabella Onyskin: That's when I knew I wanted to be a pilot. So, can you share your journey in becoming an aerospace engineer? 

Karen Perez: I've always loved airplanes. Ever since I was a little girl. I have some incredibly happy memories with me as a kid traveling with my mom to the Dominican Republic to visit our family. And at some point, while I was in college, I was really unsure of what I wanted to major in. And I ended up taking a career aptitude test where my results were architecture, culinary science, electrical engineering, and aerospace engineering. And I remember saying to myself, aerospace engineering, I love airplanes. Why not? Let me make the switch. And once I did, everything just clicked. I got my career at the FAA started as a summer intern and while I was in school. After that first internship experience, I knew I really wanted to work at the FAA and I would tell everyone, remember my face. I'm going to work here someday. I always say now, if you want something, make sure to make it known. 

Isabella Onyskin: In what ways do you think, like diversity and inclusion contribute to innovation within the field of aerospace?

Karen Perez: I think the aerospace industry needs to look a little more like what America looks like. As our technology continues to grow and we start encountering even more complex issues. We will absolutely require a wider range of perspectives and experiences. And being more inclusive so that all people feel valued when sharing their new ideas, you know. And I think that's what will really make the aerospace industry really boom.

Isabella Onyskin: So, how do you believe your cultural background has influenced like your approach to problem solving?

Karen Perez: I think this is a really good question and I think a lot of minorities, a lot of people in underserved communities, come from really humble beginnings where we learn to make do with what we've got. In the Dominican Republic, where my family's from, for example, we have a desert called dulce de naranja that we literally make out of orange peels, sugar and cinnamon. And it's delicious. And you know what, what do we normally do with orange peels? We throw them out, right. And I don't think there would have been that creativeness or that willingness to use something that you would normally throw away unless there was, you know, hunger involved, right? If it wasn't out of these circumstances, new things wouldn't be born, you know. Whether that's, oh, we don't have enough people. Or what's a simpler way to do something? Or how do we fix this problem? You know, it's almost as if it's in our DNA, to figure it out, no matter what. 

Isabella Onyskin: I really love that answer. 

Karen Perez: Do you have a sort of role model or someone that you look up to or aspire to be like in in the world of aviation?

Isabella Onyskin: Olga Custodio.

Karen Perez: I know her!

Isabella Onyskin: Yeah, she's like, really important to me, because she was the first Latina pilot, and aspiring to be a pilot, as a Latina myself is, it's great to have that role model.

Karen Perez: What do you identify yourself? Besides the Latina aspect? What is it about her that you see in yourself?

Isabella Onyskin: Her desire to do what other people haven't or what other people are scared to do. She really took her own ambitions and made it her career. And that's really inspirational to me.

Karen Perez: The world is your oyster at this point, because you have a leg up already. I don't think at your age, I had any idea of what I wanted to do. So, I think it's amazing that you already have that pretty clear in your mind.

Isabella Onyskin: Can you highlight a specific project or achievement for me that you're like particularly proud of in your career?

Karen Perez: I think that the first project that comes to mind is the very first SpaceX Falcon Heavy mission, which was this huge rocket that launched a car into outer space. I think that was amazing. I was I was part of the FAA licensing team that made that happen. I remember there was this excitement in the air and I just remember getting goosebumps as the rocket launched. Just seeing the footage of the car just floating into space for the first time like it was no big deal. Holy cow! I'm a part of that, you know, no matter how tiny. 

Isabella Onyskin: That's amazing. 

Karen Perez: It definitely makes you feel like your life has purpose. 

Isabella Onyskin: That’s wow. Yeah.

Karen Perez: It seems like you're really interested in aviation and you mentioned that you for sure want to be a pilot. And I'm an avid believer that you don't need to have just one career, just one major. You don't have to be just one thing in life. So, besides a pilot, what else do you want to do when you grow up? 

Isabella Onyskin: Right now, I'm really interested in political science. So, I'm looking into different programs that I can take to do that. To get a degree in political science. And then I'm also actually interested in aerospace engineering as well. I think just having that background knowledge about what I'm going to be flying, and what I'm going to be doing would really help me be a better pilot.

Isabella Onyskin: So, Karen, as a woman and a Hispanic person in the aviation industry, what advice would you have for someone like me?

Karen Perez: Don't leave your success in the hands of anybody else. Like, you are in charge of that. You are the author of your story and if you want something, then it's up to you to make it happen. You will make it happen.

Isabella Onyskin: Thank you so much. That’s an amazing way to put it.

Karen Perez: So, Isabella, you've asked me all these all these great questions, but what advice would you have for people in your shoes, or the peers that you have in school right now?

Isabella Onyskin: I really resonated what you said and I think that people need to understand that being intimidated is not the same thing as like, not understanding and not being able to do something. So just because you're intimidated doesn't mean that you're not going to be able to do that yourself and it always means that you can learn more on your journey.

Airport Design Challenge PSA: Hey students! Think you know Minecraft? Think again! We're not just talking about playing – we're talking about designing your very own video game simulation! Get your creativity engines revving for the ultimate Airport Design Challenge! That's right, you'll be the mastermind behind every virtual terminal, every control tower, and every pixel of the sky. Are you up for the challenge? Head over to the and get ready to take off on this epic STEM journey.

Lucy Jabbour: Thank you for listening! For more information about today’s guest, check out Subscribe, like, follow where ever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out on new episodes. Coming up, in the next episode of The Air Up There...

Bobbie Kahklen: I loved being an air traffic controller. It's the best job in the world, I think. It's the job that you never knew you loved and I loved every second of it. Getting that acknowledgement from the pilots. They'd say, good job tower. I loved seeing the work that I did pan out.