As the Crow Flies: Five Years Later
Twenty-one years ago, I found myself in a position I never imagined I’d be in: I received a scholarship through the Royal Canadian Air Cadets to earn my private pilot licence. I was only 17.
Fifteen years later, I made a documentary called As the Crow Flies, which follows a group of inspiring young cadets going through the same program I did. Though I don’t fly anymore, I’ve since had the chance to catch up with Emma, one of the young women in the film.
Tess: Emma, what are you up to these days, five years after the film was shot?
Emma: Five years later, I’ve found myself back in the same environment! I decided to pursue flying as a career in 2017, and since then, I’ve received my Commercial Pilot Licence and flight-instructor rating. I’ve been instructing for nearly two years and am presently working on my multi-engine and instrument ratings. I’ve also returned to the cadet program to volunteer with regular training programs, ground schools and the family-flying program. I decided to begin the application process to become a cadet officer last year and hope to become one in the near future.
Tess: That’s so amazing, that you’re continuing with your training, but also that you’ve come full circle and are training others! I find with women in STEM, there’s often a desire to help mentor and pass the torch on to the next generation. I find I do this in filmmaking, but even found I had this sense while working with you on the film: to encourage you to help achieve your goals. Was there a sense of something shaping you when you were a young cadet, and do you feel that urge to pass the torch?
Emma: The cadet program and the flying scholarship provided me with incredible experiences and shaped me into the person I am today. I am so gracious for the endless support I found in my squadron’s officers and volunteers—especially in regard to flying. I’m not sure if I will ever find a way to give enough thanks, but at the very least I can find a way to pay it forward by showing that level of support to future pilots and cadets. I think that support from a younger generation of cadet officers and flying instructors is becoming a necessity for the success of this valuable program and industry in the future. The question so commonly asked is, “Who will be our future leaders?,” but we also need to ask, “Who will help build those leaders?” As social climates continually change, it is so important that those teams of builders include young and diverse people, people of the same generation who can bring modern perspectives and connect closely to cadets and pilots through shared experiences. In particular, I wish I had more women to look up to as a cadet. There were few women in leadership and officer roles—and even fewer that I could closely connect with. Role models can be so important in learning about oneself, building confidence, and developing leadership skills. I feel that having someone to look to for inspiration and guidance could have greatly helped me grow as a person, especially while navigating a program and industry that have traditionally been male-dominated.
Tess: Yes, when we see people similar to us represented in our mentors and leaders, it makes the goal seem more attainable and further normalizes the idea of diversity in those positions. It carves a path for systemic change. Though it was always my intent to encourage you, there was something I felt while working with you and the other young women—like I was working with a younger version of myself. I could see you young women and all your insecurities, but I could also see how those insecurities still exist in me today. It showed me how social constructs had helped hardwire in some of those insecurities. But I could also see your raw confidence and desire to just go for it despite that. So it helped me process those mental patterns in a healthy way and grow further. You inspired me, and you inspired me to grow! Do you ever get this feeling while instructing?
Emma: I think that mentorship is something that is two-sided. As a mentor, you have just as much to learn and gain from the relationship. My students may not even realize, but they teach me as much as I teach them. Practically, they help me improve my teaching and find ways to better connect and instruct every individual. Similar to your experience, I also find myself recognizing my own insecurities in my students, or recognizing their confidence in an area I may not have. The outcome is reflection on myself—what holds me back from having that confidence? If I am able to help them grow past insecurities, then why am I not helping myself? Truthfully, I did not start as the most confident pilot, and it held me back for a long time. My time as an instructor and working with students and cadets has provoked some of my most significant personal growth.
Tess: That’s amazing. And so interesting to see that time has allowed the positive experience I had working with you to come full circle for you to experience it too. Is there any advice you’d want to pass on to young women pursuing aviation or STEM today?
Emma: My advice is to find a safe and supportive environment and start working on your goals. Aviation and STEM can still feel intimidating, and being male-dominated contributes to that. However, there are people and schools ready to support you. It is absolutely achievable and the experience is so rewarding. Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back!
Tess: I know Rhea is in the Physics and Astronomy program at University of Waterloo and had a student co-op position at TRIUMPH, Canada’s particle accelerator project. Minni is now at the Sault College Aviation program obtaining her Commercial Pilot Licence. And many others have moved on to great things. Have you kept in touch with anyone else?
Emma: Yes! A few of us still stay in touch often. I have stayed very close with Namita, who is currently attending the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, earning her MD, and Victoria, who is currently a Master of Science candidate at the University of Waterloo.
Tess: You’ve all moved on to such amazing things! I’m so proud of you all!