SALT LAKE CITY — Joanna Geraghty said being the highest-ranking woman in the airline industry is humbling, but also frustrating.
"It shouldn't be that way in 2018," said Geraghty, JetBlue's president and chief operating officer. "There should be many more in this space ranked even higher than me."
JetBlue teamed up with the Utah STEM Action Center and Atlantic Aviation Friday to teach girls about careers in flight, especially those relying on science, technology, engineering and math.
"Often times, girls don't see themselves in these roles," Geraghty said, citing the lack of female role models who are pilots, technicians or other STEM-related positions.
"It's about exposure," she added. "We know that the more you expose girls and young women to careers in STEM, they start thinking that they can actually do that type of career."
Sarahi Echeverria, 13, wants to be a pilot, and even has a goal of getting her private pilot's license when she turns 16.
"I just really like to see things from a different perspective," she said, adding that flying is like being on "invisible roads up in the air."
Women in management positions at JetBlue spoke to the crowd of around 100 girls, age 8 to 14, answering questions about what their most difficult challenges have been and their favorite things about their jobs. One of the girls drew a laugh when she asked when the presentations would end and the "actually fun stuff" would begin.
Paula Minniti, the general manager for JetBlue LAX, was asked what motivates her to "go in front of all the men" in her work.
"It gives me a lot of pride to know that I'm a minority in this industry," she responded. "You have to be strong, assert yourself, and walk away feeling good about the task you accomplished."
Yezelle Del Valle, 8, asked how much an airplane costs. When Joni Guerts, the accounts payable manager at Jet Blue, told her they can cost up to $56 million, Del Valle responded, "Ouch."
The girls later divided into groups and talked to more women in various occupations at JetBlue, from customer service to in-airport and in-flight positions.1 comment on this story
The highlight for many girls, however, was being able to board a JetBlue plane parked outside. Female technicians showed them the inside of turbines and landing gears, while female pilots gave tours of the cockpit and even allowed the girls to sit down and touch the controls.
Tami Goetz, the executive director of the STEM Action Center, said she admired JetBlue's company-wide effort to both push for STEM careers and encourage girls to pursue those careers.
"I've never seen this from a professional aviation company before," she said. "My sense when I walked in the door was that this is a pretty all-hands-on-deck JetBlue team."