Chesco conference pitches science careers to girls

Stacy Sheard, a test pilot for aircraft maker Sikorsky, explains helicopter controls to 12-year-olds (from left) Vinumitha Thulasam, Mayra Cardona, and Danna Ramirez.Among the other sessions: robotics and forensics.
Stacy Sheard, a test pilot for aircraft maker Sikorsky, explains helicopter controls to 12-year-olds (from left) Vinumitha Thulasam, Mayra Cardona, and Danna Ramirez.Among the other sessions: robotics and forensics. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 17, 2014

PHOENIXVILLE The pilot was explaining how the big Sikorsky S-76 helicopter sitting outside Phoenixville Middle School worked when someone asked why pilots wear flight suits.

The chief reason is they are fire retardant, but all those pockets are good for stashing essentials, like lip gloss and nail files, pilot Stacy Sheard said.

Most of her colleagues might not have given that answer, as the overwhelming majority of helicopter pilots are men.

But at the Chester County Economic Development Council's 14th annual GETT (Girls Exploring Tomorrow's Technology) conference on Saturday, Sheard was one of 30 professional women who encouraged girls to enter careers in science and technology.

About 500 middle and high school girls attended the all-day conference, which had sessions on, among other things, robotics, nuclear power, biomedical engineering, forensics, environmental science, kitchen chemistry, even dairy farming, with the owner of Shellbark Hollow Farm explaining the science of turning milk into cheese.

But Sheard and her plush corporate helicopter, which she flew from Sikorsky's headquarters in Coatesville and landed on the school lawn, was a star attraction. Sheard herself was also a big hit with the girls, many of whom said they had never met a female pilot.

That's not surprising. Sheard said only three of Sikorsky's 55 pilots are women.

Women make up 7 percent of all pilots, she added.

And women account for 25 of the company's 100 engineers.

"That's better than average," she said.

Sheard told the girls she grew up in a small town in California watching firefighting helicopters fly over her house and joined the Army to learn to fly. She has flown tourists in the Grand Canyon and movie stars in Los Angeles. She also has piloted air ambulances. Now she's a test pilot and travels the world.

A few girls said they could see themselves flying helicopters someday.

"It seems like a cool job," said Sana Mansoor, 11, a sixth grader at Fugett Middle School in West Chester. "You get to go everywhere and put out fires."

Then the girls climbed into the cockpit and the passenger seats, taking pictures and asking questions of Sheard and others, such as design engineer Elizabeth Parriotti and Nadine Trombley, who stitched together the cushioned leather seats, a job that did not require an engineering degree or even a college education.

"My grandma taught me to sew," she said.


kboccella@phillynews.com

610-313-8232

@kathyboccella

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