UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND event celebrates, advances diversity in aviation

Hundreds attend Faces of the Industry summit, which draws top speakers and panelists from across aviation

UND student leaders, faculty members, panelists and keynote speaker Graciela Tiscareño-Sato (center) stand at the Faces of the Industry summit on Oct. 17. Photo by Arjun Jagada/UND Aerospace.

Editor’s note: An assortment of videos capturing all elements of UND’s Faces of the Industry event is available on UND Aerospace’s YouTube channel.


By Averie Eixenberger

On Oct. 17, UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences supported student organizations as they hosted the third annual Faces of the Industry event.

Faces of the Industry was created in 2022 by two UND students who saw a need within the Aerospace school. Meridath Jackson and Sophia Jensen formed the event to help bring together members of underrepresented groups within aviation.

The event celebrates diversity and inclusion within aviation and features panels of speakers as well as a keynote address.

Faces of the Industry is student run, with participation from leaders of five different student organization on campus: the Latino Pilots Association, the National Gay Pilots Association, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, the Professional Asian Pilots Association and Women in Aviation International.

More than 400 people attended this year’s event, which was held at the Memorial Union. The event featured discussions and advice from members of underrepresented groups within the aviation industry, and was meant to create a space where people could celebrate differences and recognize changes within the industry that need to happen.

This year’s event featured three panels and ended with a keynote address from Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, an author, entrepreneur and former Air Force officer. Panel members represented all areas of the industry including Air Canada, Alaska Airline, Aviate Academy, Boeing, Delta Air Lines, FAA, Horizon Air, Northern Planes UAS, Seattle Seaplanes, United Airlines, and USAF.

Panelists (from left) Varun Pande, Lacey Pittman, Martin Rottler, Erin Roesler, Riei Iwamoto, and Elliot Wilson take part in the All Angles of the Industry Panel at UND’s Faces of the Industry Conference, Oct. 17. Photo by Arjun Jagada/UND Aerospace.

Options and opportunities

• The event began with the “All Angles of the Industry” panel. This panel featured seven speakers from many different backgrounds, highlighting opportunities within the aviation industry as a whole. The panel included discussions on DEI initiatives and their importance as well as options for those aviation students who might not follow a traditional pilot career path.

“It is a priority to diversify the flight deck,” said Elliot Wilson, captain at Alaska Airlines. “It’s relatable. If I see someone who looks like me, it makes it a career that seems like I can do that as well.”

The other panelists echoed Wilson’s statement, sharing stories and experiences. Panelists also showed students less well-known opportunities within the industry and encouraged flexibility when moving into a career in aviation.

“Your life will change,” said Martin Rottler, manager of pilot development at Delta Air Lines. “It is not a failure to step back and say, ‘I want to do something different.’ It’s cool to swerve, and there are opportunities beyond being a pilot.”

• Faces of the Industry continued with the “Generations of Women in Aviation” panel. This panel featured women in different phases of their aviation careers, and sharing unique perspectives on the industry. The panelists answered questions ranging from how to face adversity as a female aviator to sharing fun experiences on the job.

“It was very intimidating when I first made it into flight training,” said Laurél “Lo” Johnson, first officer at Horizon Air. “I didn’t come from an aviation background, but it made me learn how to be a better student and to take my time as I learned.”

“Don’t be afraid to try new things,” added Margit Mckee, safety program manager for the Federal Aviation Administration. “Don’t be afraid to fail or to learn from the opportunities, especially the ones that did not go well. Keep your opportunities open and don’t give up. If you come into a tough situation, persevere.”

Led by UND’s aviation student diversity groups, Faces of the Industry is a daylong event dedicated to exploring issues of diversity in the aviation industry. This year’s gathering was the third annual such event.

Awards and encouragement

• The event then went into an award ceremony, where three individuals were recognized for their contributions. The Advocacy Award was given to Grace Heron, a student at UND who was commended for her welcoming nature and encouragement of others. The Bridge Award was awarded to Dr. Nicholas Wilson, a faculty member at UND for his support of students and organizations. The Legacy Award was given to United Airlines First Officer Carly Namihira, for her support of younger aviators and the lasting impression she has made on those around her.

• The final panel of the day covered the “Future of Diversity in Aviation.” This panel featured UND student leaders as they shared their perspectives as students within aviation. These students shared what their experiences at UND have been and what changes they would like to see as they move into careers in the industry.

“I found my place by joining affinity groups here on campus such as LPA,” said Skyler Baquero, president of the UND chapter of the Latino Pilots Association. “By surrounding myself with people who want to understand me and my culture, I was able to navigate my way through the lack of diversity.”

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, aka “Captain Mama”, delivers keynote address to audience at UND’s recent Faces of the Industry summit. Photo by Arjun Jagada/UND Aerospace.

• The day concluded with a keynote address from Graciela Tiscareño-Sato. Tiscareño-Sato shared stories from her career as an Air Force officer and aviator as well as her experience as a mother of three and an entrepreneur. Tiscareño-Sato shared what it was like to be the only women in her Air Force ROTC class in college and the obstacles she faced moving into a career.

Tiscareño-Sato also told of her work with Latino children and how she advocates for them to pursue careers within aviation. She shared her own experiences advocating for her own children and how to persevere through the obstacles that life brings.

“You will be successful when you surround yourself with people who want you to be successful,” said Tiscareño-Sato. Her keynote address was followed by a book signing and Q&A session.

>> QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS about the UND LEADS Strategic Plan? Your thoughts are welcome! Please contact Angie Carpenter, UND’s director of Special Student Populations, and/or Ryan Zerr, associate vice president for Strategy & Implementation, the co-chairs of the UND LEADS Implementation Committee.

You also may offer your thoughts by visiting the UND LEADS Strategic Plan home page and clicking on the “Provide your feedback” link that you’ll find there.

Thank you for your support of the UND LEADS Strategic Plan!

About the author:

Averie Eixenberger is a Commercial Aviation and English major at UND. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a career as an airline pilot and work within aviation journalism.