Stacey Banks made her father a promise – when she got her pilot’s license, he would be her first passenger.
He certainly deserved the honor. He was a pilot himself and had taken his daughter on flights for as long as she could remember. Because of him, she’d never imagined herself as anything other than a pilot. But there was one catch, one possible roadblock to fulfilling that promise. Her father was dying.
This was during her senior year of high school. Banks was already flying then, but the news of her father’s cancer pushed her to quickly collect the remaining hours she needed to acquire her license. They ultimately had their day in the sky. Her father received special permission to leave the hospital, and they spent a few hours in the air together. Her father smiled the whole trip, the first time his daughter had seen him smile in months.
Banks, a Colorado native, decided to attend MSU Denver partly because she would be close enough to home to visit her father in the hospital, and also because she believed the aviation program would put her on course to fulfill her dream. When her father died during her freshman year, she was devastated, but found that her drive to become a pilot was not diminished. In fact, it was stronger than ever.
“I threw myself into my studies and flying,” Banks recalled. “That helped me process the experience before I was ready to really sit with my grief. My professors and friends at MSU Denver were so supportive.”
Banks quickly earned her remaining flight ratings, and by the end of her junior year, was teaching people how to fly small airplanes at Centennial Airport. At the same time, she was exceling as an honors student and taking advantage of every learning opportunity.
“Every one of my classes prepared me for what I’m doing now,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my experience at MSU Denver.”
Perhaps the most essential learning experience was a senior-year internship with American Airlines, where she got to see the industry from the inside and grew her professional network. The opportunity also guaranteed her an interview with American Eagle (now EnvoyAir, a regional partner of American), where she would score her first job post-graduation at a time when very few airlines were hiring.
Since then Banks has spent 11 years piloting commercial flights, most recently with American, and she doesn’t see herself slowing down any time soon. When not flying, she spends her time volunteering with local and international nonprofits, traveling and getting back to her alma mater to speak in classes. She recently took part in the Department of Aviation and Aerospace’s New Student Orientation, and enjoys sharing her personal and professional experiences with others.
She’s particularly interested in talking with young women about careers in aviation. Only 3 percent of commercial airline pilots in the world are female and Banks has made it something of a personal mission to change that. In fact, you could call it a promise – to carry on the legacy of her father by being a role model for young women who dream of flying.
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