Bringing More Women & Girls Into Aviation In Wisconsin

by Meredith Alt
Aviation Education Program Manager
Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2019 issue

Ask the next female pilot you encounter how she got involved in aviation and you’ll hear some interesting stories. Ask why she got involved and you may get even better ones. But first, you’ll have to meet a female pilot, and even in 2019, they are rare. Fortunately, in Wisconsin, a growing number of women and men are seeking to change that by encouraging young people, especially girls, to get involved in aviation.

Outreach is a central focus for several Wisconsin aviation organizations. According to Women in Aviation International (WAI) – Oshkosh Chapter President, Trish Deimer Steineke, “Our biggest goal is to introduce new people, especially young ones, to the joys of aviation.” With the aviation industry seeking to fill more than two million jobs over the next 20 years, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for young people who discover the thrill of aviation.

While many members of aviation groups want to share their enthusiasm for flying, the need to reach out to women and girls specifically, is clear. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, only 7% of all pilots and student pilots in the United States are women. Worldwide, the percentage of pilots is estimated to be under 5%. The International Air Transport Association states that the proportion of women holding CEO roles in aviation is 3%, compared with 12% in other industries.

Many women note the power of aviation role models and of having female mentors. In Wisconsin, finding female mentors is becoming easier. In the last year, the number of local chapters of international women’s aviation organizations has almost doubled.

One such organization is the Ninety-Nines. The Ninety-Nines started in 1929 as a way for female pilots to meet and support one another. Amelia Earhart was the organization’s first president. In Wisconsin, the Ninety-Nines date back to 1940. There are two Wisconsin chapters: the Northwoods Chapter and a statewide chapter.

When asked about her work with the Ninety-Nines, Deirdre Dreger, Chair of the Ninety-Nines–Northwoods Chapter in Wisconsin and Michigan, responded: “I LOVE being a 99. I have made many friends through this wonderful organization.” She noted, “I am the ONLY female pilot at my airport. It is important that we connect with each other.”   

WAI, which is dedicated to advancing women in all aviation career fields, has a chapter in Oshkosh and recently, two new chapters have been established in Madison and Milwaukee. Both the Ninety-Nines and WAI encourage women to explore aviation, conduct outreach, and have scholarship programs. A key difference is that the Ninety-Nines are all female pilots, including student pilots, while WAI membership is open to both women and men with an interest in aviation.

Joan Kelnhofer, the president of the new WAI chapter in Milwaukee, recently observed, “Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was very little exposure to careers in aviation for women. I started the new WAI of Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter because I felt there was a great need for it in the metropolitan Milwaukee area. I am very excited about all the different avenues there are in aviation today.”

Several members of the new chapters have been interested in aviation for years and only recently became active. The new WAI Madison (Four Lakes) Chapter President, Sarah Pozdell, emphasizes that the chapter encourages newcomers and people with a variety of backgrounds, including non-pilots. She notes, “As someone who loved aviation but didn’t have access to that world until later in life, I want to make sure people who have the interest also have the access.” She says that opportunities for WAI involvement may include community outreach, mentoring, social events, fund raising, and general aviation encouragement.

The Wisconsin chapters of the Ninety-Nines and WAI welcome new members, and people interested in learning more, as well as sponsors for upcoming activities. If you are interested, please contact your nearest chapter.

Contact Information

WAI of Southeastern Wisconsin (Milwaukee area)
• Chapter Website/Facebook page: (Being developed)
• President: Joan Kelnhofer
• Email:

WAI – Four Lakes Chapter (Madison area)
• Chapter Website/Facebook page: (Being developed)
• President: Sarah Pozdell
• Email:

WAI – Oshkosh Chapter
• Chapter Website/Facebook page:
• President: Trish Deimer Steineke
• Email:

Ninety-Nines – Northwoods Chapter (WI, MI)
• Website:
• Chair: Dee Dreger
• Email:

Ninety-Nines – Wisconsin Chapter (statewide)
• Website:
• Chair:  Krys Brown
• Email:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Meredith Alt ( is the Aviation Education Program Manager at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Outreach Coordinator for the WAI Four Lakes Chapter.

This entry was posted in Columns, Columns, December 2018/January 2019, Wisconsin Aeronautics Report and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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