‘Off they go!’ Notre Dame Academy women take flight
Notre Dame Academy in West L.A. proudly encourages its students to be whatever they want to be, including (in the case of some) joining the armed services. And more than a few “Regal Griffins” fly for fun or have pursued professional flying careers.
Take Kristina Richardson, class of 1995, who after graduating from NDA went on to West Point without any reservations. “I wanted to do college on my own, and I always thought that flying helicopters would be cool,” she explains.
She recalls sitting in an AP English class as U.S. Army cadets gave a presentation, encouraging NDA students to look at West Point as a real option. Up until that point, she had been leaning towards attending the Air Force Academy because of her interest in flying.
But then she discovered that West Point could offer her the opportunity to learn about a technical field through their engineering major, while giving her the opportunity to fly the most advanced helicopters. So after that class, she couldn’t wait to begin her life journey on the banks of the Hudson River in New York.
“I never thought, maybe girls aren’t becoming pilots, when I made the decision [to attend West Point],” Richardson says. “Notre Dame Academy was supportive and told me to just go for it. I think an all-girls’ environment is very comfortable and lets you gain confidence that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”
After graduating from West Point, she has spent the last 12 years serving in the U.S. Army. She’s been at the forefront of the airspace industry by flying Black Hawks, learning and teaching others about new helicopter models, and currently serving as an assistant professor at West Point.
It isn’t surprising that NDA’s “can do” attitude has created a growing trend of alumni who become pilots. Nancy Ehrmann, director of advancement, believes that graduates have no qualms about doing whatever it is they want to do because of the confidence and support they received at NDA.
“They truly believe they can be whatever they want to be,” she says. “They put their heads and hearts into whatever it is they want to do.”
Similarly, Nancy Coonis, school president, attributes the NDA spirit to how women tackle life and intense job opportunities like flying planes and helicopters.
“We have high expectations and it’s rigorous, but it’s not overly competitive because everyone’s working hard and supporting each other,” she says. “The girls truly support one another. They know that if everyone works together, then everyone can be better. This concept also makes them empowered even after they’ve left high school.”
While there isn’t a push from Notre Dame faculty for students to join the armed services, there are always a handful of girls who are interested because of the unlimited opportunities the armed forces can provide --- as Kristina Richardson discovered.
“I always joke, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up,’” she points out. “I’m not done with what I’m doing. And I’m still having a lot of fun.”
And even if the military won’t always be in Richardson’s future, she’ll always have flying and her degree from the academy. “Flying is a very relaxing balancing act,” she says. “Plus, you never hear people complaining about flying. I’ll probably still fly for fun when I move on.”