A journalist by trade, Elizabeth Tennyson craved adventure, no matter where the narrative took her. When her personal storyline felt too predictable, flying lessons were a natural choice. Twenty-five years later, her (flight) path taken was unconventional, and that made all the difference.
To Tennyson, Senior Vice President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)’s Foundation (headquartered in Frederick), the decision to fly came from the innate curiosity that powered her as a journalist.
“My background in journalism taught me to ask questions and to be bold. Sometimes, men and women feel insecure asking questions, but my training taught me otherwise,” Tennyson recalls.
Soon after, the journalist-cum-aviation enthusiast blended her passion with her profession, landing an editorial position at AOPA.
Decades after stepping into her first hangar, Tennyson pilots a variety of single-engine aircrafts. Her profession—and her pastime—took her to new heights, and now she takes others there, too. As the Senior Vice President of the AOPA Foundation, AOPA’s philanthropic arm, Tennyson helps flying become more accessible to a range of audiences. Whether encouraging first-timers or lapsed pilots to take their seats in cockpits, the Foundation’s You Can Fly program helps others realize their potential.
As a 501(c)(3) organization, You Can Fly identified a gap in aviation youth education and filled it. Sparking excitement about aviation careers at the high school level, You Can Fly is rebuilding the pilot population, one teen at a time. You Can Fly’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program, a four-year curriculum with 322 participating schools, is introducing over 10,000 students to the possibilities, free of charge. With pilot and unmanned aircraft system curriculum tracks, You Can Fly highlights opportunities as pilots, engineers, technicians, and mechanics. In 2020, the program awarded over $1 million in flight training scholarships to students and teachers.
With equity as a focus, You Can Fly gives every participant access to this exciting career path, regardless of gender, race, income, or age. By learning that aspirations are boundless, students lead with confidence.
“Don’t let assumptions about you control your destiny,” Tennyson advises. “If you want to do something unusual or different, go for it! There are plenty of people who want to help you along the way.”
Encouraging women to pursue careers in aviation is especially important to Tennyson, who notes that approximately 7% of pilots are women.
“At the time I started flying, there weren’t many female instructors. It was really up to me to do what I wanted to do and not for someone else to lead me there,” she remembers. Providing opportunities for other women is important—without the pain points.
Whether the barrier is age, gender, race, or income, AOPA opens the doors to diverse opportunities—and dialogues—in the flying community. The largest aviation community in the world, AOPA membership spans 75 countries. To learn more about their advocacy and approach, visit their website.