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Suffolk Aviation Academy course takes off

Sachem East High School senior Emily Piazza, 17,

Sachem East High School senior Emily Piazza, 17, of Farmingville, and 23 fellow Eastern Long Island Academy of Applied Technology students listened to two female aviation pilots at Suffolk Aviation Academy in Shirley on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Credit: Brittany Wait

Aspiring pilot Emily Piazza found inspiration in the stories women aviators told a Suffolk Aviation Academy class on Wednesday.

For instance, Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo was the first woman hired by a commercial airline, but she struggled to land a job for nearly a year before she was hired by American Airlines.

That story struck a chord with Piazza, who was one of 24 students at the Eastern Long Island Academy of Applied Technology program in Shirley.

“It’s great what they’ve done in the industry and not just for women,” said Piazza, 17, of Farmingville. “The message they were trying to give to us was that you can accomplish anything as long as you put your mind to it.”

Piazza, a senior at Sachem East High School who plans to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the fall, dreams of becoming a commercial airline pilot.

“One day when I was sitting in class, I thought, my goodness, I just want to fly,” she said. “That’s all I want to do. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

The students also heard from First Officer Pam Heide, an American Airlines pilot and Air Force veteran, who has stood out from the beginning in a profession dominated by men.

“To be a woman in this industry, I get treated like one of the boys,” said Heide, 50, of Port Jefferson. “You have to embrace it. You want to know your stuff and you want to fly well. The studying never stops and technology is very important to their futures.”

Louis Ballester, who has been teaching aviation classes at the school for 22 years, said he hopes his 11th and 12th grade students hold onto their dreams and keep flying.

“Look at Bonnie, she wrote to all these major airlines every month for a year until she finally got a call,” said Ballester, 65, of East Moriches. “These kids have greater opportunities now than we did back then. I don’t want them to ever give up.”

Tiburzi Caputo, 65, of Manhattan, who retired 15 years ago to start a family, advised students to never stop learning.

“The doors are wide open to them,” she said. “If you’re qualified to do the job you’re going to get hired. There’s a lot of competition out there, but you just have to work hard.”

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