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A group of adolescent girls got a taste of what a career in aviation could like as part of a program addressing gender representation in the field. 

Delta Air Lines flew 120 girls ages 12 to 18 from Salt Lake City, Utah, to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on Oct. 6 to celebrate the fifth International Girls in Aviation Day. The girls are all pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in school. The trip was a part of Delta’s effort to encourage more women to enter the male-dominated field.

"It's such an exciting time to be in STEM,” 16-year-old Karyanna H., a student at Jordan Technical Institute, told CBS. “There's so much left for us to discover."

For many of the girls, it was their first time flying. Women ran all aspects of their flight, Delta said. The group then toured NASA’s Mission Control and ate lunch with astronaut and aerospace engineer Jeanette Epps. Epps is one of 13 female astronauts at NASA who may be the first woman to land on the moon. 

More than 20,000 people across 17 countries participated in the International Girls in Aviation Day to introduce young girls to aviation and aerospace through various activities and learning experiences. 

Read More: 32 Posters of Badass Women in Science to Inspire Girls Today

Bethe Poole, general manager of pilot development at Delta, launched the program called WING Flight - "Women Inspiring our Next Generation" in 2015, to address the gender gap in STEM and show that the company values representation. United Institute for Statistics reported less than 30% of the world’s researchers working in science are women. The stats for aviation are far worse.

Women make up just over 7% of 609,306 pilots in the US, according to data collected in 2017 Women in Aviation, a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of women in the industry. And almost 80% of flight attendants are female, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development. 

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized UN agency dedicated to international aviation standards, recognizes that gender representation is an issue in the industry. 

“Air transport must address head-on why women are still underrepresented in the majority of the technical and executive positions in aviation,” ICAO secretary-general Dr. Fang Liu said at a Global Aviation Gender Summit in August 2018, according to TIME. 

Delta reported that 5% of its pilots are women and 7.4% of the airline’s new hires over the past four years are women. But the major airline is making progress and achieved 100% pay parity for female employees in front-line jobs.

“We're taking ownership to improve gender diversity by exposing girls at a young age,” Poole said of WING Flight, “and providing a pipeline so that 10 years from now, they will be the pilots in the Delta cockpit inspiring generations of women who follow."

Since Delta started WING Flight, 600 female students have participated.

To support more women in STEM, experts recommend fostering interests in math and science in girls from a young age and providing role models with STEM mentors.

"It didn't seem realistic to go after a career in aviation, but today I realized, 'Hey, I can do this too,'" said 17-year-old Katelyn J., a student from Advanced Learning Center.

Disclosure: Delta Air Lines is a Global Citizen partner. This story was produced independently by the editorial team.


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