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Drone initiative helps women to soar

They are not just toys and they’re certainly not just for men. Drones and the opportunities they can lead to are expanding for women as well.

Yet, studies show that while women constitute nearly half of the labor market, they hold less than 25% of STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] jobs.

Wendy Erikson is hoping to change that statistic. Erikson was an Emmy-award winning journalist for KSDK for 17 years and host of Show Me St. Louis. Today, she is engaged in attracting more girls to STEM careers.

Wendy Erikson

While watching the news during the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the Philippines in 2016, Erikson was fascinated after seeing a photo labeled “drone image.”

“In one picture it told the whole story of the devastation this earthquake had caused,” she said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘This is a game changer for the industry I spent 25 years in.’”

In that moment, she realized that drones could open up a whole new perspective on the world.

“It was a Godsend for the journalism industry,” she said. “They could cover breaking news … and not have to be on the ground.”

That piqued Erikson’s interest in drones, so she bought her first drone — a Yuneec Typhoon Q500. Wanting to learn more, she attended a tradeshow in Chicago. It was there that she met Sharon Rossmark, who also had an interest in drones. Realizing the lack of women that were sharing in the new technology, Rossmark decided to start Women and Drones.

From left: Sharon Rossmark, Cynthia Huang of drone manufacturer DJI and Wendy Erikson [Source: Women & Drones]

The goal of the organization is to serve as an advocacy for women in STEM and aviation industries.

Erikson has played a vital role in the organization, serving as a podcast host and advisor. She set up its website and co-authored with Rossmark the adventure and activity books Fun With Drones, Drone Girls and The Wonders of Whale Snot, and Drone Girls and the Air Show Adventure.

Experience with her own daughters taught her that she needed to show them examples of engineering jobs, so they could visualize it for themselves.

“Girls are very worried about how they are presented,” Erikson said. “If they don’t understand something or feel they’re not going to be good at something, examples work really well.”

Her example led one of her daughters to becoming a biological engineer.

The Women and Drones website started off as informational only, but has since added memberships and a jobs board to connect women with businesses that have job openings.

It also features a Women to Watch segment, started last year to honor women who are business leaders, innovators, mentors and visionaries making an impact on the drone industry.

“It tells stories about what women are doing in the drone industry,” Erikson said. “There’s a wide variety — wildlife conservation, women in drone law — everyone brings a different talent to the table.”

Erikson, an FAA-certified drone pilot, also handles digital media and STEM initiatives for Women and Drones. In this role, she collaborates with community groups for a presentation called Fun With Flying Robots and does speaking engagements on the topic of drones and opportuities for women in the industry.

Since she’s been so active in the Women and Drones organization, Erikson doesn’t fly her drones as much anymore, but the real satisfaction, she said, is watching other women soar.

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