2023 Whirly-Girls Scholarship Recipients

Diana Arias, WG#2308

Survival Systems USA Aviation Survival & Egress Scholarship

Diana Arias is passionate about flying, learning, and challenging herself. She's a project manager for a NASA research laboratory and prioritizes working towards completing her Instrument Rating at Veracity Aviation in Pearland, Texas. Her goals are to support and encourage women to advance in pursuing their flying goals, and to learn more about the ever-growing possibilities in the helicopter industry. She's intrigued by medevac as well as search and rescue operations. 

Michelle Astergård, WG#2191

PHI Bell 407 Scholarship

Michelle Astergård is a Swedish pilot who began her aviation journey as a flight attendant in Europe, thinking she would fly airplanes in the future. Instead, she was drawn to helicopters and is currently working as a tour pilot for Mauna Loa helicopters on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Before that she worked as a CFII in California for Rogue Aviation. Her future goal is to fly EMS where she can help others. Until then, she is trying to enjoy her time in the US as much as possible. She loves to inspire girls who want a future career in aviation.

Michelle Benke, WG#3384

MD500 Flight Training Course AND Garmin Aviation Online Training Course Scholarships

Michelle Benke came to Arizona with no prior aviation experience and a dream of learning to fly. The logistics were not easy as she lived a considerable distance from the facility, and the workload as a full-time student and parent was intense. Throughout her training, she continued to demonstrate great commitment, dedication, a solid work ethic, and professionalism. After completing her CFII training and receiving her Associates degree, she became the Assistant Chief Flight Instructor at her school and has continued her education as she progresses in this field. She is driven by an overwhelming sense of curiosity which serves as a catalyst to her ongoing education.

Isabella Blair, Associate Member

Southern Utah University Career Flight Training Scholarship

Isabella Blair’s lifelong interest in flying compelled her to leave a career in marketing to spend more time in the sky. She, her husband, and their pets are packing up and moving from Grenada, Mississippi to Cedar City, Utah, where she’ll attend Southern Utah University’s Helicopter Pilot Program. When she’s not dreaming of flying, Isabella spends her time at the local CrossFit gym, where she’s a Level 2 CrossFit Trainer.

Bridget Colby, WG#2141

Garmin GTN & Flight Display Pilot Training Course Scholarship

Bridget Colby’s passion for flying started from a young age after attending an Air Force show with her dad. She started her flying career in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia as a tour and charter pilot, progressing from the R44 into the B206. Bridget then went on to fly fire seasons in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia. She currently flies the AS350B3e for the New South Wales National Parks Service doing a range of aerial work. She plans to use this scholarship to broaden her knowledge of the technical systems in the machines she flies. 

Katherine Cowley, Associate Member

Bristow Group Initial Training Scholarship

Katie Cowley found her passion for flying through the ski and snowboard world. Overcoming the adversity of being on her own from the age of fourteen and finding her way into the aviation industry, she hopes to inspire other girls from challenging backgrounds to break through those barriers. Currently a fixed-wing pilot for a survey company, she is working towards her license conversion to rotary, a goal she has been chipping away at for the past 10 years.

Adele Dobler, WG#1715

Leonardo Helicopters AW139 Flight Training Course Scholarship AND Oregon Aero CRM/AMRM Instructor Training Scholarship

As a little girl, Adele Dobler would often dream of the skies, but she wrote off being a pilot because she’d never seen anyone she could relate to in a similar role. Her life changed one summer after a chance encounter with a female cherry-drying helicopter pilot. With many twists and turns along the way, her career has taken her from Western Canada to Eastern Africa. She has flown mountain tours in a Bell 206, scheduled service and air ambulance transports in the S-76, performed HEMS flights in the Canadian Rockies with NVGs, and now sits in the captains’ seat of an air ambulance helicopter in Kenya.

Amy Ehn, WG#2089

Palm Beach Helicopters CFI/CFII Rating Course

Finding time to study is a skill that Amy has honed over the years. As a small business owner, employee at Paradise Helicopters in Hawaii, and holder of a Master's degree in Aviation and Communcation, she has had plenty of practice. She's excited to put her skills to the test once again while completing her CFI and CFII training with the support of this scholarship. She believes an attitude of gratitude leads to success, and extends her thanks to the Whirly-Girls and Palm Beach Helicopters for this opportunity.

Kellye Evans, WG#2300

Leading Edge Flight Academy & Central Oregon Community College Helicopter Instrument Rating Scholarship

Kellye Evans grew up in Yosemite National Park and is an avid rock climber and skier. She is the founder of a Phoenix-based medical scribe company that trains pre-healthcare students to work in hospitals and support healthcare professionals. Through her work, she traveled to rural medical facilities via helicopter and fell in love with aviation. By adding her instrument certificate to her pilot ratings, she hopes to work toward combining her love of the outdoors with her passion for patients and healthcare and eventually enter the Search and Rescue industry.

Haley Follman, WG#2291

Edward M. Thurn Memorial Scholarship

Haley Follman has a growing passion for all things aviation. After working on a cutting horse ranch while graduating from high school and thinking about what she wanted to make of her life, she decided to pursue her rotorcraft ratings. Now 20 years old, she is working on completing her CFI/CFII training. Her long-term goal is to own her own company, providing agriculture and hunting services. She also wishes to become an EMS pilot and pursue her other passion as a certified first responder. She trained at Veracity Aviation in Seguin, Texas, where she hopes to attain her first job as a Certified Flight instructor.

Samantha Hansen, WG#1995

Survival Systems USA Aviation Survival & Egress Scholarship

Samantha Hansen graduated from the University of Virginia and began her career in aviation after working commercially as a 100-ton boat captain and submarine pilot. She completed her CFII with Mauna Loa Helicopters and is currently a 135 instructor pilot in the AS350 B2 for Safari Helicopters in Hilo, Hawaii. Samantha provides aerial tours and media coverage over the actively erupting volcanoes of Kilauea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and her flights have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, BBC, and Reuters. Samantha juggles work as a full-time helicopter pilot and single mom to her son, Henry. She is also pursuing a Masters in Business Administration and works in NTSB accident auditing. Her long-term career goals include earning a PhD in Aviation Psychology and transitioning into SMS Management and program implementation for 135 helicopter operators. 

Amory Harris, WG#2244

Garmin GTN & Flight Display Pilot Training Course Scholarship, AND Oregon Aero CRM/AMRM Instructor Training Scholarship

Amory Harris first fell in love with helicopters while working as a guide at a backcountry lodge in Alaska. Last winter, she completed her instrument and commercial ratings, and she's excited about starting to work as an instructor. Her career goals are numerous, and she has dreams of flying in Alaska and Antarctica.

Michelle Lambert, WG#2236

Garmin Aviation Online Training Course Scholarship

Michelle Lambert was born and raised in Central California. Her love for the great outdoors took her all around the globe and introduced her to seasonal work. Various seasonal jobs eventually led her to Wildland Fire and working for the US Forest Service. It was in the fire industry that she was exposed to aviation and discovered her passion for helicopters. Michelle enrolled in Leading Edge Flight Academy in Bend, Oregon to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot. She is currently working towards her CFI/CFII ratings and hopes to instruct at Leading Edge this summer. When she isn’t flying or studying, she can be found skiing in the beautiful Cascade Mountains or riding her mountain bike down any trail she can find.

Elizabeth Leidenheimer, WG#2292

Garmin GTN & Flight Display Pilot Training Course Scholarship

Elizabeth Leidenheimer has an extraordinary passion for all things aviation. She is currently working towards her instrument rating and hopes to one day work as an EMS pilot. She trains at Platinum Helicopters in Princeton, New Jersey and devotes all of her achievements to her late father.

Maria Loken-Kim, WG#2157

Airbus Inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IIMC) Training Scholarship

Originally from Russia, Maria worked as a humanitarian responder in emergencies in the Middle East and Asia. She decided to pursue a career in aviation while working with flight crews, bringing medical teams to villages in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2015. After getting ratings on the West Coast, she now works as a tour pilot in Hawaii flying on the Big Island, home of the most active volcanoes in the world. 

Mbatha Munanie, WG#2218

FlightSafety International Bell 206/Bell 407 Scholarship

After years of flying commercial airplanes as Captain on the Dash 8 Q400, Mbatha Munanie, adventurous as ever, dove in headfirst into the world of rotor flying, training in Florida to the Instructor level. It has been quite the ride! With a relentless passion for flying and a fearless spirit, she soared to new heights in the aviation industry as one of two civilian female helicopter pilots of Kenyan origin in the field. Having pursued a BSc in IT, she worked in banking and telecom, and then joined the airlines. For her, a global citizen currently residing in Kenya, "The Sky is the LOWER limit." She is excited to progress from a BSc degree in IT to airplanes to rotor wing!

Heidi McBride, WG#1765

Oregon Aero CRM/AMRM Instructor Training Scholarship

Heidi McBride is currently flying the AW139 as an IFR SIC for Bristow Group in the Gulf of Mexico, in support of the oil and gas industry. Her helicopter career began in the U.S. Coast Guard where she served as an Avionics Technician and Crew Chief on MH60 Jayhawk helicopters. She then attended helicopter flight school at Leading Edge Flight Academy in Bend, Oregon. Using her military helicopter maintenance background, Heidi obtained her FAA Airframe and Powerplant license and worked as an avionics technician and aircraft mechanic while attending flight school. Heidi is also the lead coordinator for HAI's MIL2CIV, Military to Civilian Transition workshop, an event that focuses on mentoring and assisting military aviators make a successful transition into the civilian helicopter workforce.

Jessica Meiris, WG#2123

Erickson & Volo Mission Vertical Reference/External Load Scholarship

Jessica Meiris is a self-employed contract pilot dedicated to furthering the safety of the industry. Currently based in her home state of Colorado, her end goal is to combine her climbing knowledge with aviation skills and fly for mountain short haul rescue programs. She also enjoys public speaking, good wine, bad jokes, and the warmth of friends and family.

Vanessa Mendoza, WG#2247

Whirly-Girls Jean Tinsley Memorial HELI-EXPO Scholarship

Vanessa Mendoza became interested in aviation on an off-roading trip with her father. He was an electrician who suggested she become a helicopter pilot to inspect power lines or other utility work. She took a discovery flight, and the rest is history. Raised in southern California, Vanessa saw the destruction of wildfires first-hand and has set her goal to become a fire pilot or a search and rescue pilot. Currently, she is working on her instrument rating at Silverhawk Aviation Academy in Caldwell, Idaho.

Genie Mulari, Associate Member

Whirly-Girls Initial or Add-on Helicopter Flight Training Scholarship

Genie Mulari has an adventurous spirit, a passion for learning, and a love of aviation. She is currently working towards completing her initial helicopter rating at DuBois Aviation in Chino, California and intends to gain employment in the helicopter industry. On this journey, she would like to engage in tours, corporate transportation, search and rescue, and the ultimate goal of becoming a fire pilot.

Leah Murphy, WG#1956

Oregon Aero CRM/AMRM Instructor Training Scholarship

Leah Murphy is the current Vice President of Membership for Whirly-Girls International and has been volunteering in this position since 2020. She is a certified flight instructor in both airplanes and helicopters and loves sharing her passion for aviation with her students and community members through outreach programs. 

Sage O’Loughlin, WG#2281

PHI Bell 407 Scholarship

Sage O’Loughlin has been flying helicopters since 2019. She started her flight training at Utah State University while also earning her Bachelor's degree in business. During the pandemic, Sage moved to Portland, Oregon to finish her training and work as a flight instructor at Hillsboro Heli Academy. She now lives in Kansas and flies as a corporate pilot. Her long-term goal is to be an EMS pilot and live in Texas.

Maria Romero Abella, WG#2296

Robinson Helicopter R22/44 Safety Course Scholarship

Maria Romero Abella was born in Colombia and raised in Montreal, Canada. During the pandemic, she took the leap from being a flight attendant and earned her commercial helicopter license at Mountain View Helicopters in Alberta, Canada. She currently works as a multilingual ground instructor for Select Aviation in Gatineau, Quebec. Her current goal is to work toward her CFI in the next year. She dreams of working internationally and is passionate about diversity within the industry.

Jenetta Rutherford, Associate Member

Leonardo Helicopters AW139 Full Airframe Maintenance Course Scholarship

Jenetta Rutherford works as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer for Eagle Copters in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Jenetta was inspired to enter the aviation industry after seeing her sister train as an air cadet and witnessing her passion for all things that fly. In her free time, Jenetta enjoys skiing, climbing, and helping out on her family farm.

Leah Seitz, WG#2195

Robinson Helicopter R66 Safety Course Scholarship AND Lora Trout Memorial Flight Training Scholarship

Leah Seitz, currently a 135 tour pilot and flight instructor in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, decided to become a helicopter pilot while living in rural Alaska. She completed her training at Jerry Trimble Helicopters in McMinnville, Oregon and was hired by Trimble as a CFI/CFII. Inspired by personal events surrounding wildfires in the West, Leah was motivated to pursue aerial firefighting. She is in the process of pursuing these goals by working on long-line training. When she is not around helicopters, you can find her silversmithing, exploring the Pacific Northwest with her dogs, or enjoying a motorcycle ride down Highway 1.   

Elizabeth Vavashe, WG#1929

Leonardo Helicopters AW139 Flight Training Course Scholarship

Elizabeth Vavashe became the first female helicopter pilot in Zimbabwe in 2006 and attained a commercial license two years later. At present, she flies scenic tours over The Victoria Falls where she resides. In addition to flying, she holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (Honors) Business Management Degree and is working on completing her MBA. Her long-term goals are to continue flying helicopters with different missions and purposes, attain a leadership role, and act as a positive role model to youths from disadvantaged communities.

Grace Wagner, WG#1947

Advanced Mountain Flight Training Scholarship

Grace Wagner grew up in Durango, Colorado, exploring the mountains and deserts of the southwest. She is hopeful that her career in helicopter aviation will allow her to be of service to her communities. Grace contributes to the Whirly-Girls by playing an active role on the social media committee, and she loves to volunteer at outreach events. Her time in the industry has allowed her to fly in Oregon, Colorado, Northwest Florida, and Northern Arizona. Currently working at the South Rim location of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, Grace is a lead pilot and thrilled to have recently started flying for Papillon’s utility department.