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Press Release

Release Date: June 30, 2022
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

Chickasaw student applies what she learned from high school STEM

Sara Ellis is one of the few girls enrolled in Ada High School’s aviation program.

“I never thought I would want to be in the aviation field,” Ellis said. “I was not good at math or science. The aviation program has taught me that if you have something that you really want to do, like flying, it makes things like calculus easier when you see how they are applied.”

Now, the 17-year-old is learning the ins and outs of the lucrative and male dominated aviation industry as part of “The Sky is Not the Limit: Cruising Altitude” program, which primes students to study aviation degrees in college and find work within these fields after graduation. Like the annual Chickasaw Nation Aviation and Space Academy, the school’s aviation program provides students with the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and how they apply to aviation careers.

“I have been in the aviation program since my freshman year,” Ellis said. “I got involved in the aviation program when my friend asked me to join with her, because she didn’t want to be the only girl. I did not realize how much fun I would have, and I love it. The program has inspired me to pursue a career in aviation.”

With both classroom and hands-on activities, the Ada High School aviation program has encouraged Ellis to study STEM fields. Favorites for her have been the flight simulators and real-world flying experience. The goal of the program is to teach students like Ellis that STEM skills can lead to exciting occupations in interesting fields.

“The simulators we use are fun, but the plane I flew is amazing,” Ellis said. “It was a tiny little Cessna. I was a little scared because the plane was so small, but it was exciting. That first flight was the motivation I needed to know that this is what I want to do.”

As a junior in high school, she is now mentoring younger participants of the aviation program. She spends time guiding students at Ada Junior High and prepares them for what to expect when they officially enter the program their freshman year. She shares her experiences, using her leadership skills to help others succeed.

“The aviation program is incredible,” Ellis said. “There are so many people that you get to meet and make connections with. I would not have done half the things I have done so far without the aviation program. I have met some of the first women who have had careers in aviation at conferences I have attended. I recommend Ada’s aviation program to everyone.”

Ellis spends time studying traditional math and science classes offered at school, as well as spending many additional hours each week studying topics that allow her to work toward earning her pilots license. She enjoys the structure the aviation program provides.

“The first year, we focus primarily on the history of aviation,” Ellis said. “The second year, we learned about the mechanics of flight. This year, we have been focusing on the smaller details of flight. Next year, we will learn more about the certifications and processes needed to fly.”

Ellis said Ada High School aviation instructor Chris Eckler is an encouraging role model. Eckler is a positive influence in keeping her interested in the program and making sure all aviation students have opportunities to see aviation careers in action. He also makes students aware of scholarship opportunities.

“A large percentage of the students in the aviation program at Ada High School are Native American,” Eckler said. “This is because of where we are positioned. At the high school, we just gave out six scholarships and of those six, I think four were to Native American students.”

Ellis received a $3,000 scholarship awarded to her by the Ada Schools Aviation Program, Inc., also referred to as ASAP Foundation.

The aviation program teaches STEM fields to First Americans at a substantially higher percentage than the national average. The program reflects a larger than average First American population living within the community. Nationwide, First Americans are an underrepresented demographic within STEM fields.

Ellis was invited to attend the Aerospace and Aviation Academy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, this summer. She will explore future career opportunities, attend flight ground school, participate in a flight prep simulation and learn the importance of flight planning. She will also have the opportunity to visit NASA facilities and the Lone Star Flight Museum.

“Sara is an asset to our program,” Eckler said. “She was one of our first female students in the aviation program. If you look at the statistics, women in aviation is a minute factor. There are many scholarships and opportunities for her to be had. She has drive and passion. She is excited about aviation.”

According to Machelle Ellis, Sara’s mother, attending the academy at Rice University is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“The Ada High School aviation program has afforded Sara many awesome opportunities,” Mrs. Ellis said. “Sara has met people within the industry who have encouraged her desire to be a part of aviation in one way or another, especially being a female in the traditionally male dominant field.”

Ellis is active within the Chickasaw Nation. She participated in the Chickasaw Nation’s Toksali SMART summer employment program for three years. During her employment, she was given the opportunity to gain competence and workplace skills in a real-world environment while developing self-confidence.

“We are beyond grateful for our tribe’s confidence in Sara’s abilities and their contributions to her future success,” Mrs. Ellis said. “She is very proud to have her name in the same circles as Chickasaw aviation greats such as John Herrington and Pearl Carter Scott.”

“Sara currently works at Ada Walmart. She excels at customer service and her leadership skills have already been noticed at work,” Mrs. Ellis said. “She credits her self-confidence and excellent work ethic in part to what she learned with Toksali SMART.”

Ellis is the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Sim Miller, full blood Chickasaw and original Dawes enrollee. She is proud of her heritage and is a strong Chickasaw woman with a warrior spirit.

“My Chickasaw heritage is important to me,” Ellis said. “Our family has always known where we come from. I receive my Chickasaw heritage from my mother’s side of the family. My great-great-grandmother spoke Chickasaw. I have many family members who work for the Chickasaw Nation, including my mother and two of my brothers who currently work in information technology. The Chickasaw Nation has been supportive in everything I have wanted to do.”