Aviation Day helps Decatur student discover her passion

Kendra Ulrich hopes to pursue a career aviation

When Kendra Ulrich’s mother asked her if she wanted to attend Alaska Airlines’ annual Aviation Day four years ago, she had no idea she would find the career path she hopes to follow.

“I went home that night and I was like ‘all right mom, that is what I am going to do. I don’t know how I am getting there, but I am getting there,’” the Decatur High School junior said of pursuing a career in the aviation industry.

Since attending her first Aviation Day as a seventh-grader with her Girl Scout troop, Ulrich has gone back each year – and plans to attend the 10th annual event on Saturday.

The free event, hosted by Alaska Airlines along with the Port of Seattle and Boeing, provides youth ages 13 to 18 with the opportunity to learn about different career and education paths in aviation. The event features hands-on activities and speakers.

“It’s incredible,” Ulrich said of Aviation Day. “It introduced me to the field I have now decided I want to work in. Without Aviation Day, I don’t think I would have considered a job within the field of aviation.”

While Ulrich hasn’t narrowed down a particular job within the industry, traveling appeals to her.

“If I could have an opportunity to travel though my work, I would be ecstatic,” she said.

She also likes the role of science in aviation.

“When I was really little, I was always fascinated with how something big can be up in the sky and not fall down,” Ulrich said.

Stephanie Gardner, interiors engineering manager for Alaska Airlines, has been involved with Aviation Day for the past three years since she started working at the company.

“What is special about Aviation Day is it shows that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) isn’t just about computer programming,” she said.

Gardner said she hopes the event will get youth, particularly young women, interested in aviation. Women make up only 6 percent of people in pilots and engineering jobs in the aviation industry.

Ulrich’s participation in Aviation Day got her connected to TeenFlight Puyallup, a nonprofit organization designed to teach high school students vocational skills necessary to construct, maintain and fly aircraft while exposing them to career opportunities through field trips, job shadowing and internships.

Ulrich said she has learned a lot through TeenFlight, including problem-solving skills. She said while working recently on the airplane they are constructing, the group drilled the wrong size hole and had to find a solution.

“What are we going to do about this?” Ulrich recounted. “Can we use a bigger rivet? Can we use another piece of metal?”

Ulrich encourages anyone interested in aviation to check out Aviation Day.

“If you think you could possibly be interested in aviation, even if not directly aviation, go to Aviation Day,” she said. “I had never dreamed about being pilot or being a mechanic until I went to Aviation Day.”

For more information about Aviation Day, visit alaskaair-aviationday.org/launchpad/seattle.