Big Bend Community College student, Dani Dunlap, sets her sight on a lofty goal
Travel & LeisurePosted on May 17, 2019
by Melea Johnson ~ One year ago, on May 18, an energetic group of Big Bend Community College students was happily washing cars to raise funds for the aviation program enrolled in. Their cheerful faces and outward enthusiasm drew drivers in whether they needed their car washed or not. I was one of them. Turns out I not only left with a well-washed car but also with a bright outlook to never lose focus on a dream. You see, one of the students caught my curiosity and for whatever reason, I wanted to know why she was in the aviation program? With a countenance of complete confidence, she affirmed, "I am going to be a pilot for Alaska Airlines." In just the way she expressed the desire to reach that goal I knew without a doubt she will be. And a good one.
BBCC Aviation Program car wash
VENUE Magazine interviews Dani Dunlap
How young were you when you knew you wanted to fly?
I was a sophomore in high school when the idea of flying was first brought to my attention. An adviser at my school had asked if I had ever thought about aviation as a career option, he had a friend who worked for Alaska Airlines as a Captain and thought it would be something that would fit my personality. At the time I was struggling with what I wanted to do in life and the idea of becoming a pilot was never something that I had ever considered since I was very scared of heights. Regardless of my fear, my curiosity led me to look into the possibility of perusing aviation through research and talking to my grandpa who was a Navy pilot.
On a whim one day I decided to schedule a flight lesson to decide once and for all if it was a career I should seriously consider or if I was going to continue searching. I met my instructor for the first time, this was at Regal Air in Paine Field (Everett, WA), he was this really tall, goofy guy that I wasn't even sure would fit in the small Cessna 152. As we were taxiing the plane to the end of the runway, I was extremely nervous; nervous that I wouldn’t like it, that my fears would take over me. Before I could even consider changing my mind my instructor pushed in the throttle and we took off down the runway. When I eventually looked out the window, I saw beautiful dusk painted clouds with streaks running through them when I discovered, I wasn’t scared. We were 4500 feet up, but I wasn’t scared. It seemed like I could conquer the world; my fears becoming completely irrelevant as I realized I just had to do this with my life.
There is no feeling quite like flying and the sense of freedom it gives you. It’s safe to say that I’m no longer scared of heights. Upon returning I started looking into career options in aviation and found that the industry is in great need of pilots and there were tons of opportunities out there for young aviators who are willing to work hard.
Was there any one thing that inspired you?
My dad and my grandpa have been the two people who have inspired me most during this time in my life. My grandpa was a pilot in the Navy for many years and had an incredible career with stories you wouldn’t believe. My dad has attempted to peruse aviation in the past but due to some rough times financially, he could no longer afford it. Seeing how proud they are of me when I see them makes all the daily stress worth it for me. My dad has helped me open doors that I couldn’t have gone through without help, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. My goal is once I become a flight instructor to help him achieve his dream of flying like he helped me achieve mine.
What would you say to young girls about following their dream?
I am going into an incredibly male-dominated industry, and to be honest, that has come with its own struggles. There’ve been times when I’ve mentioned being enrolled in a flight program and people thought that I was training to be a flight attendant only because I fit the image. This to me is frustrating because I know that pilots come in all shapes and sizes; this type of response from people only inspires me to do better and show people that I can in fact be successful in a field where I might be at a disadvantage. What I would say to young girls about following their dreams is that it’s going to be hard; people are going to doubt you and put all sorts of stumbling blocks in your way, but if you are truly passionate about what you’re doing, never lose focus, and surround yourself with those who encourage and uplift you then there is no dream you can’t pursue.
What does it take to follow your dreams?
From an outward standpoint, it takes the opportunity and a drive to go after your dreams. You must seek out these opportunities and have the drive and determination to keep going when they pass you by because one of these days you will succeed. Then from an inward standpoint, the biggest thing that can get in the way of you achieving your dream is yourself, if you don’t think you can do it, you end up fulfilling your own prophecy. I’ve been flying for three years and the difference between my training before I came to Big Bend verses after I came is that I ended up finding an environment that I can really thrive in. This was never easy and came with many late nights, large credit loads, and financial crises because let’s be honest, aviation isn’t cheap. But with all the struggles came great reward and satisfaction. Here at BBCC I have been pushed to be the best I can be, both by knowing what I need to know and by gaining the skills required all through the guidance and mentorship of my instructors.
When you become a pilot what do you think you will look back on the most in your journey?
When I reach the airlines, I’ll look back and will remember what it took to get there. Not just the balancing of flying, school, a job, and a boyfriend, but how all that shaped me into a better person. I will also look back and remember the community that I’ve been a part of in the BBCC flight department these last two years. I’ll remember the pranks that I thought were funny until they were pulled on me, I’ll remember all the times I goofed off yet always managed to learn so much, I’ll remember how much I looked up to Chief, and I’ll remember all of the life long friendships I’ve cultivated. My time here at college has been one of my favorite times of my life and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds.