Satya Sunkavalli has always wanted to fly.
“Airplanes always fascinated me since I was younger and they still do,” said the 27-year-old native of Andhra Pradesh, a province in India. “I used to watch the sky and look at the trails, and I just always wanted to fly.”
Nevertheless, she didn’t at first pursue an aviation-related degree, but earned one in information technology at GITAM University in India. Still longing for the sky, she did her research and landed at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast enrolled in the Aviation Maintenance Tech program. She also takes pilot lessons.
On Thursday, Sunkavalli will be called up to the podium at Memorial Coliseum to add another degree to her resume, an associate of applied science in aviation maintenance technology.
Her degree is in dual concentrations in airframe, which are aircraft structures and their associated systems, and power plant – processes and practices involved with the maintenance and repair of aircraft engines and systems mechanics.
“She turned into a pretty darned good little mechanic in two years,” said Michael Clouse, aviation program chair at Ivy Tech. “She’s not afraid to jump in and learn. She truly wants to learn every time you talk about something new. She’s not afraid to get in there and get her hands dirty.”
Sunkavalli’s degree could enable her someday to realize her dream of building her own airplane. Nationwide it’s estimated that the need for airplane mechanics will grow by 19 percent over the next two decades or by about 100,000 mechanics, according to a study by 2013 Boeing study, Clouse said.
Ivy Tech’s program is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and classes are held at the 21,000-square-foot Aviation Center on Cook Road.
The affordable cost of living in northeast Indiana and depth of Ivy Tech’s program twinned with a desire to be relatively close to her sister and family in Chicago, drew Sunkavalli to Fort Wayne. She has interned at GNN Aviation in Griffith and holds a job at Skywest Airlines at Fort Wayne International Airport where she works in the fleet service department.
“Its a great opportunity,” she said, and “a foot in the door to learn a little bit about commercial aviation.
“I’d love to fly for corporate aviation.”
Sunkavalli is nearly at the point of getting her private pilot’s certificate that would allow her to fly a plane like the four-seater Cessna 172,.
Sunkavalli is active in local piloting programs such as Young Eagles, a summer event for young people held at Smith Field and in Auburn and the Experimental Aviation Association that holds competitions in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“In Oshkosh, there’s a big flying event,” where people build airplanes and are judged on their craftsmanship, Clouse said. “That’s one of her many goals in aviation.”
Sunkavalli is also a member of the Three Rivers 99s, a chapter of an international organization for female pilots. She takes salsa and bachata dance lessons and is a member of the Young Democrats in town, she said.
She would consider staying in northeast Indiana to work but does not have a working visa.
“Time is running short for her, and she’s really struggling and trying to find some way to obtain that work visa. We hope to find that combination,” Clouse said.