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Recognizing Women in Aviation: Opportunity Elevated Scholarship allowing recipient to soar

At the just-concluded Women in Aviation International Conference, Republic Airways marked the event by announcing two scholarships that promote diversity in the workforce. Manuela Cortes is the 2022 Republic Airways “Opportunity Elevated” scholarship recipient while Carolyn Thomas is the first recipient of the newly created LIFT Academy “Women in Aviation” scholarship. Both recipients received awards of $5,000 to defray their educational expenses.

To be considered for these scholarships, applicants must complete an application including a personal, original essay about their aviation experience and aspirations and share two letters of recommendation. Additional details about the Women in Aviation scholarship programs are available here:

Republic Airways Opportunity Elevated Scholarship Recipient, Manuela Cortes

Manuela Cortes is a Certificated Flight Instructor who was born in Medellin, Columbia before immigrating to the United States where her family settled in Connecticut. She recently had the opportunity to move to Alaska and further purse some of her flying goals. We talked with Cortes about her experience with Republic, asked her about the impact of the scholarship on her career and discussed the importance of highlighting Women in Aviation.

What is something that you wished more people knew about you?

Manuela Cortes: I am always up for an adventure and a challenge! I believe that being open to new experiences, no matter how intimidating they may seem at first, is crucial to growing as not only an individual but as a pilot. Aviation is multifaceted and I hope to continue building upon my knowledge and skills by welcoming new unique flying opportunities throughout my aviation journey.

What was your first memory of aviation?

Manuela: I discovered my love for flight unexpectedly during a paragliding experience in my home country of Colombia. While my instructor manipulated the interconnected strings, we soared over the beautiful, rigid mountaintops and I was overcome with a sudden sense of freedom and excitement. It was at that moment when I knew I needed to fly!

Who is your biggest inspiration in your pursuit of becoming a commercial airline pilot?

Manuela: My biggest inspiration in becoming a commercial airline pilot has always been my family. Although no one in my family has a background in aviation, they always encouraged me to follow my dreams and supported me every step of the way. I thank them for the fundamental values they instilled in me and for giving me the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. As a first-generation college student, I hope to continue working hard towards my goals to make them proud.

What is your current position? Where are you currently in your flight training?

Manuela: Throughout these past few months, I have completed both my CFI and CFII training in Alaska. Currently, I am applying for a flight instructor position in hopes to soon help others with their flying goals! In the next few months, I also plan to obtain my MEI and continue working towards building the flight time needed for my ATP.

What does a typical day look like for you as a flight student? Describe what your responsibilities are, etc.

Manuela: A typical day as a flight student in Alaska has its challenges. Freezing rain, snow and icing has all become a part of another typical winter day! These experiences have been both humbling and exciting, but most importantly have given me the opportunity to conquer new terrain and weather challenges. As I transition into a flight instructor role, my responsibilities will now include providing my students with all the support and help they may need, while also making their flight training both enjoyable and memorable.

What other positions have you held that lead you on your path to your current role?

Manuela: During my time at Florida Institute of Technology, I had the privilege of serving as both President and Treasurer of my local Women in Aviation Chapter. One of the most valuable experiences of my undergraduate career was having the opportunity to intern at American Airlines. Upon graduating from Florida Tech, I accepted an Analyst position within Tech Operations at American Airlines and had the chance to continue expanding upon my aviation management knowledge. Overall, these experiences molded my foundation as an aviation professional and inspired me to continue on my path towards becoming a commercial airline pilot.

Please share what it means to you to be a Women in Aviation scholarship recipient. How will this scholarship help move you forward in your flight training?

Manuela: I am truly honored and grateful to have been the selected recipient for this year’s WAI Republic Airways Opportunity Elevated Scholarship! Throughout these past few years, I have learned that no dream is too big to conquer and with this scholarship opportunity, I am beyond ecstatic to have the chance to further my training and obtain my Multi-Engine Instructor(MEI) rating.

Aviation has historically been an industry with a mainly male workforce. What inspired you to begin your aviation journey?

Manuela: I discovered my love for flight unexpectedly during a paragliding experience in my home country of Colombia. It was at that moment where I knew I needed to fly! Once my mind was set on becoming a pilot, I began immersing myself into the aviation industry in any way I could. During the last month of my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to intern at my local FBO, giving me my first brief exposure of what aviation entailed and inspired me to begin my aviation journey.

Scholarship Recipient – Manuela Cortes

How does being a female pilot make you feel?

Manuela: In the heavily male-dominated field of aviation, where only about 7% of pilots are females, it is sometimes easy to feel alone. Through my experience at Women in Aviation, I learned that even though we may be small in numbers, we are powerful and fully capable of achieving anything we set our minds to do. Having the courage and strength to push through challenges and adversity to pave the course for your future is not easy, but with the collective support of one another, we can all continue to shatter glass ceilings, together.

What are you most proud of in your career so far? What are you looking forward to?

Manuela: Obtaining my Certified Flight Instructor Certificate has been one of my proudest achievements thus far! I know I would not be where I am today without my incredible instructors. They not only helped me succeed in my flight training, but most importantly, they challenged and encouraged me every step of the way. I am looking forward to providing my own students with the same support I was given, while helping them conquer their dreams. Additionally, I am also looking forward to obtaining my MEI rating and gaining more experience bush flying.

What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing any career in aviation?

Manuela: My advice to young women interested in pursuing a career in aviation would be to not let fear hold you back from achieving your flying goals. Although the journey may not be easy, with consistent hard work and perseverance, you can achieve anything you set your mind to! I would also suggest surrounding yourself with people who will help guide you along your journey, don’t be afraid to seek out mentors. I am a firm believer that we can all have a huge impact on inspiring the next generation of female aviators, whether you are a student pilot or an airline pilot, I encourage everyone to get involved within their aviation community.

What about Republic stands out to you in the aviation industry? Why do you look forward to working with Republic in the future?

Manuela: Republic Airways commitment to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in the aviation field through the help of generous scholarships and outreach programs is truly admirable. Their goal in diversifying the flight deck by inspiring and supporting the next generation of aviators speaks volumes of their company culture. I am truly grateful to Republic Airways for believing in me and investing in my future. I look forward to achieving my goal of becoming a commercial airline pilot and joining the Republic Airways family as a First Officer.