An airport and runway with a backdrop of mountains
A full tarmac at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, Thursday, July 20, 2023, in Aspen. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

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By Sara Martin, Chalkbeat Colorado

Dagmar Kress dreamed of becoming a pilot. But her father told her that flying wasn’t something women did.

She recalled him saying at the time, about 55 years ago: “Oh, that’s not for women, that’s too technical and you could never have a family,”

But Kress didn’t heed her father’s warnings and went on to become a decorated pilot and flight instructor. She is also a lecturer at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she is helping guide other women into the aviation field.

MSU Denver is considered one of the most comprehensive aviation schools in Colorado, offering extensive courses in its aviation and aerospace department where students can earn degrees and certifications including professional flight officer, air traffic controller, aviation management, and drone operator.

The program is also notable for its enrollment of students who identify as female, which at 20% sits above the industry standard. The number of women enrolling in MSU Denver’s program has increased almost each year since 2017, when the university started tracking data.

Nationally, women made up fewer than 16% of students enrolled in aviation programs in 2022, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration.

MSU Denver’s success in attracting women to the aviation program is coming at a key time for the industry, which is being hit by an unprecedented rate of mandatory retirement. That will leave openings for women to break through a field that has been historically male-dominated. About 91% of aircraft pilots and 75% of air traffic controllers are male, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

University President Janine Davidson, herself a former pilot, frequently promotes the aviation program. In addition, several of the aviation faculty are women, and the university actively works to connect students with job opportunities — most recently through a new partnership with United Airlines. 


Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization covering schools and education. The news organization believes education is a local issue, and roots its coverage in local communities. Chalkbeat reports from and about eight locations: Colorado, Chicago,...