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West Virginia native Emily Calandrelli has built a career encouraging kids, especially girls, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
She recently spoke with Eric Douglas about her passion for space and a new project based right here in the Mountain State.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: Tell me a little bit about all the stuff you do.
Calandrelli: I’m a WVU and MIT engineer turned science communicator. I host Netflix’s Emily’s Wonder Lab. I host and executive produce a show on Fox called Xploration Outer Space. I’ve worked with Bill Nye on his show, Bill Nye Saves the World on Netflix, and I have a series of children’s books. The main ones that people might know are the Ada Lace Adventures, which features a West Virginia girl who loves science and technology.
Douglas: Why was it important for you to use a West Virginia girl in your stories?
Calandrelli: It was important for me to have a girl as the main character first. When I was a kid, I didn’t find a lot of books about adventure and science that featured little girls as the main character. And it was also important to me that she be from West Virginia because I think as West Virginians, we know that a lot of times when we are in the news or make national headlines, it is not often for positive things. And I think that we just need a bit more positive stories about West Virginians in the world.
Douglas: Have you ever received any pushback from the publishers or anybody saying, West Virginia is such a small state? Let’s go with a kid from New York or California or something like that?
Calandrelli: It was kind of the best of both worlds because she’s a West Virginia girl who moves to California. I was a West Virginia girl who moved to California and they say write about what you know. And so there’s a little bit of West Virginia and California in there.
Douglas: Tell me about what this project you’re working on now. As with most of your projects, you’re working on STEM education, encouraging people, young people, especially young women to pursue careers in, in STEM. But tell me tell me what, what this project is all about?
Calandrelli: This is a project called The Future is You with West Virginia Public Broadcasting in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Education. And it’s all about featuring women in aviation throughout the state, the education opportunities that are right here in West Virginia, and also the job opportunities in aviation that you can get right here in West Virginia after you get that education and training.
Douglas: What are some of the growth opportunities for young people, especially young women, in West Virginia in the aviation industry.
Calandrelli: We went to the Robert C. Byrd Aerospace Educational Center at Pierpont Community College and they’re training A and P mechanics. So airplane mechanics and they’re just not very many women in that field. And it’s such a good career. I mean, it’s two years of education and the average salary of an A and P mechanic is $60,000. People later in their career can make over $100,000 with a two year certification. I think that’s really, really incredible. And those jobs are in high demand right now. The percentage of women in that field is so low. A really good way to fulfill the demand in that position is just to have more women join. And so I’d love to see more women in that field.
We went to Marshall University. They had a new flight school just open up. It’s brand new, and it looks gorgeous. And they have these new, slick planes that they’re training pilots. And they have a waiting list because there’s so many students who want to become pilots that they literally have a waiting list for students who want to learn how to fly these planes. And so they’re now working on ways to buy more planes to fill the demand there. And so it’s really, really exciting that all of this is happening all around the state.
Douglas: A lot of West Virginians probably don’t even realize there’s a really large aviation industry up in the Clarksburg-Bridgeport area
Calandrelli: Yeah, the Pratt Whitney is there and Aurora Flight Sciences. There’s a lot of jobs right there.
Douglas: You could get the A and P certification, which is airframe and powerplant I believe, and stay right here in West Virginia. It’s not like you’re getting training here and then have to move away to some other place.
Calandrelli: Sometimes the problems that we see, you get the training here in West Virginia, and then you look around, and there’s no jobs in that field that you wanted to work in. But that’s not the case in aviation. I mean, just like you said, you can get the A and P certification, and then literally go across the street from where you got that certification, and work at one of these leading aerospace jobs that are located right here in the state.
Douglas: I know you recently had a daughter of your own. What are your hopes and dreams for her as far as all of this goes?
Calandrelli: I just want every opportunity to be available to her. I want her to see every career that is available and imagine herself in it. Because all too often, sometimes when we see these careers, like pilot, for example, . You picture a certain type of person in that role. And for women, that person doesn’t always look like them. And I’m hoping that that demographic will change for a lot of these careers, especially in aviation and aerospace, so that she can see herself in all sorts of careers when she gets older.
Douglas:What’s the next big thing on the horizon for you?
Calandrelli: Oh, gosh. For me personally, I’m filming season seven of Xploration Outer Space. We’re producing that season now. So picking what we’re going to film and then we’ll go film it soon enough. I am writing more books. I have a new book coming out next year called Reach for the Stars that I wrote after my daughter was born. It’s my first picture book. And then I have a book of experiments coming out called Stay Curious and Keep Exploring that’s coming out later next fall, so about a year from now, and working on a few animated shows that we’ll be pitching very soon. So a few irons in the fire, I guess.
The project on women in aviation in West Virginia called The Future is You with West Virginia Public Broadcasting in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Education is slated to be out later this fall.
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