Department of Aerospace Engineering

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Female pilots in WWII lined up in front of plane.

Fly Girls: Breaking Barriers in the Sky

Event Type
Social/Informal Event
Department of Aerospace Engineering
Beckman Institute, Auditorium (Room 1025)
Mar 28, 2024   5:30 - 8:30 pm  
No admission fee.
Register now.
Courtney McLearin
Originating Calendar
Department of Aerospace Engineering Events

Join the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Women in Aerospace for this exciting event.

5:30pm - Fly Girls Film Screening
6:30pm - Panel Discussion
7:30pm - Reception


"In the midst of World War II, the call went out: women with flight experience were needed to fly for the military. All over the country, young women postponed their weddings, put their educations on hold, and quit their jobs to respond. From 1942 to 1944, more than 1,000 women were trained to ferry aircraft, test planes, instruct male pilots, even tow targets for anti-aircraft artillery practice. Despite serving with grit and determination, women pilots often encountered disbelief and resentment. Thirty-eight would give their lives. 

Fly Girls tells the largely unknown story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), featuring a remarkable group of former WASPs who recall the planes they flew, the challenges they met, and the pride they felt in playing a role in the American war effort." 

After the film screening, stay to hear from the panel as they discuss the courageous and ground breaking women of the WASP program, the challenges faced during WWII, and how those lessons learned apply to women in the world of aviation today. 

Lisa Taylor, Executive Director of the WASP WWII Museum
During her tenure at the Museum, Lisa has led and completed an expansion initiative that has doubled campus facilities, expanded exhibits, and established school-age programs. Working with the Museum’s key leadership team, Lisa has facilitated creating a first-class visitor experience for families and school groups as they learn about the WASP, their legacy pilots, aircraft, and STEM careers. 

Prior to her museum role, Lisa worked for the Chamber of Commerce and taught in both the private and public-school sectors. She has always fought for the underdog and has enjoyed raising money for her schools and churches.

Lisa holds a BS in Marketing from Texas Tech University and an MAT in Education from Texas Woman’s University.

Samantha McCue (BS 2012, AE), System Engineering Manager, XQ-58A Flight Test Lead at 5-D Systems, Inc. a KRATOS company   
Samantha McCue graduated from the University of Illinois in 2013 with her Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering and Private Pilot Certificate with Instrument rating from the Institute of Aviation.  She later earned a Master of Science in Systems Engineering Management from Texas A&M.  After graduation, Samantha went on to work for Cimarron and Boeing based in Houston, TX, where she worked as a Systems, Instrumentation, and Test Engineer on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner program.  In 2016, she began working with 5-D Systems (a Kratos company) and has served in the roles of Systems Engineer, Test Director, and Program Manager.  Samantha is currently the Systems Engineering Manager for 5-D Systems and the XQ-58A Valkyrie Flight Test Lead for the Kratos Unmanned Systems Division.  In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors, traveling, eating, and growing her small fitness business in the Austin, TX area.

Christine Oksas (BS 2016, LAS), First Officer, SkyWest Airlines
Christine graduated from UIUC in 2016 with degrees in Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Anthropology. She received her private pilot certificate through the Institute of Aviation during her junior year. Upon graduating, Christine worked in the health tech industry for two years before moving west to continue her flight education. She received her instrument rating, single and multi-engine commercial certificates, and flight instructor certificates in 2019. Christine worked as a contract ferry pilot, a medevac pilot on a King Air 200, and a flight instructor for two and a half years before transitioning to the airlines where she now flies the CRJ 700 for SkyWest Airlines at SFO. Still passionate about flight training, Christine continues to instruct in her local pilot community and was one of AOPAs 2021-2022 Distinguished Flight Instructors. She also runs a mentorship program for commercial pilots through the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots. 

Robyn Woollands, Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering
Robyn Woollands is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Prior to joining Illinois, she worked for almost 4 years as a Mission Design Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Robyn’s research interests are in astrodynamics, trajectory optimization, Picard-Chebyshev methods and space mission design. She is a recipient of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award for 2024. Robyn graduated with her PhD in Aerospace Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2016. She is a recipient of the Distinguished Graduate Student Doctoral Award for Excellence in Research at Texas A&M University.

Chy-Amari Finley, Aerospace Engineering Undergraduate Student
Chy-Amari is a second-year aerospace engineering student who currently holds a private pilot license. She has been involved in aviation and aerospace outreach since high school working primarily with students from underrepresented communities. Her most notable outreach has ties with several Tuskegee Airmen and OBAP chapters. Currently, she is working on her instrument rating and ground instructor certifications to help teach and spread her passion for aviation. As an aerospace engineering student, she plans to work with human spaceflight and use her extensive aeronautical knowledge to help solve more complex space-related problems.

Moderator: Laura Gerhold (BS 07, ACES), Assistant Director of Undergraduate Programs and Chief Advisor, Department of Aerospace Engineering
Laura came to the University of Illinois in 2002 to pursue a career in Aviation at the Institute of Aviation.  After several years as a flight instructor and academic advisor for the University of Illinois' aviation program, her passion for working with students led her to continue her journey as an academic advisor.  She joined the Department of Aerospace Engineering in March of 2012.  Laura's passion for flight and space led her to find a home in the department.  Outside of work, she enjoys giving back to her community and is a member of various local organizations including the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, The Family Room,  the Education Justice Project, and the Executive Club of Champaign County. 

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