For Fatima “Lee” Laugo, a recent graduate of Morse High School in San Diego, participating in the 24-week Girls Take Flight program provided the support system she needed to pursue her goal of becoming an aerospace engineer.

“When I first heard about the program, I understood immediately that it entailed a STEM environment, but it would be able to teach me the fundamentals of aerospace and aerodynamics, which aligned perfectly with my goals,” she said. “Additionally, [Girls Take Flight] promoted an environment where I would be supported by women and young girls – which was a support system I lacked.”

Unique Program

Girls Take Flight is a nine-month initiative located at the Elementary Institute of Science in the Emerald Hills neighborhood of Southeast San Diego. It’s where students learn to build, program, and fly drones, leading to the certification of the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial drone pilot. Girls Take Flight has received grant funding from the San Diego Foundation Science & Technology program, which increases regional efforts to create and expand a pipeline connecting young adults underrepresented in STEM to college and career opportunities.

Virtually all participants in Girls Take Flight have enrolled in college after high school graduation and 90% of the students have passed an FAA exam to become certified drone pilots. In fact, approximately 10% of all female-certified drone pilots in the United States who are under the age of 20 were trained at the Elementary Institute of Science.

This program exposes young women and girls to careers in computer programming, aerospace engineering and drone-aided GIS mapping and cinematography, among others. The program has received past funding support through the Science & Technology Program at San Diego Foundation.

Exposure to Mentors

Girls Take Flight

Lee said that her favorite part of the program was meeting female drone professionals.

“My favorite part of participating in Girls Take Flight was their intentional initiative in making sure to expose our girls to women who were established professionals in the industry,” Lee said.

“Our teacher for the duration of studying for our FAA P107 was a professional drone pilot who owned her own business. We met a variety of women including those in the police force, engineers, to entrepreneurs. Being able to see women who look like yourself thriving in male-dominated fields is inspiring and demonstrated to us we were capable of doing the same.”

Soaring Towards the Future

While Lee plans to pursue a career in aerospace engineering, with Girls Take Flight, she realized she wants to pay it forward.

“Girls Take Flight has influenced my career path, not in the sense I’ve changed my goals since prior to joining – but it has given me support, and immensely strengthened the confidence I needed to pursue aerospace engineering,” she said.

“Additionally, it made me realize I, myself, want to support young students through STEM education in the same way my mentors have taught and guided me in earlier years. Watching younger students thrive and remembering what it was like to be in their shoes has been a rewarding experience.”

Lee is emphatic about what Girls Take Flight has given to her. And she has encouragement for those considering supporting underrepresented students’ exposure to STEM disciplines.

“Your contributions, whether it be big or small, helps towards changing the futures of young high school girls who otherwise would not have had this opportunity,” she said. “Girls Take Flight has given me the stepping stones I needed to succeed in my high school career beyond what I believed was possible. This program was integral in providing me with the tools I needed to continue pursuing my dreams.”

About the Science & Technology Program

The SDF Science & Technology Program promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to underrepresented young adults. Since 1999, the Science & Technology Program has granted more than $10.3 million to support scientists and engineers in San Diego. The Science & Technology Program is funded in part by the Blasker-Rose-Miah Endowment Fund at San Diego Foundation and The Reuben H. Fleet Foundation.

Learn more about the SDF Science & Technology Program.