From Aspiring Aviator to First Officer: Olivia (Semon) Carnprobst's Journey Through the Nikki Kukwa Memorial Aviation Camp

Olivia Carnbprobst portrait in uniform

Olivia (Semon) Carnbprobst’s, ’23, journey from a high school junior at the Nikki Kukwa Memorial Aviation Camp (NKMAC) to a first officer at Endeavor Air epitomizes the camp's impact on young women's careers in aviation.

Founded in memory of Nikki Kukwa, an outstanding Kent State University aeronautics student who helped establish the Women in Aviation International Student Chapter, Flying Black Squirrels, the NKMAC aims to continue her legacy. Kukwa's life, tragically cut short by leukemia in 2006 while earning her instrument rating as a junior in the professional pilot program, remains an example of inspiration, driving the camp's mission to encourage the next generation of female aviators.

For Carnprobst, a first-generation pilot, the camp was a pivotal experience. “The camp showed me all aspects of aviation and helped solidify the path I wanted to take, which was becoming a pilot,” she said. The hands-on experiences and the close-knit community of instructors, some of whom knew Nikki personally, provided her with a concrete sense of direction and a deep connection to the legacy she aspired to follow.

The NKMAC's success lies in its ability to showcase the vast array of opportunities in aviation, whether one aims to pilot aircraft, manage air traffic, design aircraft and parts, or lead within aviation management. Carnprobst stresses the importance of this exposure, which instills a belief in young women that no career is beyond their reach.

Carnprobst’s aspirations took flight at Kent State, where she completed her bachelor's degree in just three years and went on to earn a master's in aviation management and logistics. Her roles as a student, an instructor, and later as a master's candidate exemplify the camp's ripple effect — from sparking interest to nurturing expertise.

Olivia Carnprobst with students at the Nikki Kukwa Camp

After attending the camp in high school, Carnprobst knew she wanted to return as a camp counselor to mentor and share how the camp influenced her pursuit of aviation. Reflecting on her return as a counselor, Carnprobst shared, “Seeing the faces of those young women during and after the flight made everything come full circle for me.” Her instruction was informed by the same wonder she once felt as a camper, a testament to the enduring legacy of NKMAC’s mentorship.

Her advice to high school girls is to always ask questions and build relationships. “The industry is a very small world,” she added, highlighting how connections made at the camp could shape future career paths. Having a strong support system of people with similar goals will help navigate the obstacles throughout the journey.

Carnprobst’s aspirations and achievements illuminate NKMAC’s mission to empower young women to pursue their dreams in aviation. It’s a narrative that underscore’s the camp’s role not just in nurturing pilots but in cultivating leaders who will shape the future of aviation. As the camp welcomes new applicants for 2024, her story serves as a beacon, signaling the heights that can be achieved through dedication and the support of programs like NKMAC.

The camp and Nikki’s legacy, Carnprobst emphasized, encourages young women to explore the field of aviation and to realize their potential within it. She credits the camp with showing that “young women can do anything that they put their minds to.”

With her narrative, Carnprobst embodies the mission of the Nikki Kukwa Memorial Aviation Camp: to provide a launching pad for future female leaders in aviation, honoring the memory of a student who once dreamt of the skies.

Nikki Kukwa Memorial Aviation Camp Paves Runway for Next Generation Aviators

The NKMAC offers an all-encompassing, cost-free, three-day aviation experience for 20 female high school students. Funded by the Nikki Kukwa Memorial Aviation Fund and the College of Aeronautics and Engineering at Kent State, the camp is a commitment to fostering the growth of young women in the field of aviation.

Participants will reside on Kent campus, engage in a comprehensive itinerary featuring a regional airport tour, hands-on learning in the Kent State’s Air Traffic Control Lab, and the opportunity to take flight from Kent State Airport. This real-world exposure is pivotal in unveiling the many career pathways in aviation.

The 2024 NKMAC is Wednesday, July 10 – Friday, July 12, and applications are now being accepted.

View Nikki Kukwa Camp Information and Application

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POSTED: Wednesday, March 20, 2024 11:34 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2024 12:11 PM