Plane old determination

Kelly Cleary heads to Plymouth Airport to start her career in aeronautics.

Lindsey Scott, left, and Kristin Zern stand with Kelly Cleary, center, who will be attending Cape Cod Community College and working at Plymouth Airport through MV Youth's workforce development scholarship. — Lexi Pline

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) graduate Kelly Cleary is heading off-Island to start her career in aeronautical engineering.

Cleary will attend Cape Cod Community College’s (CCCC) Aviation Maintenance Technology program, and receive her Airframe and Powerplant certification at the end of her education. 

She will stay on the campus at Bridgewater State University (BSU), and get hands-on training at Plymouth Municipal Airport.

Since starting out in the automotive classroom at MVRHS, Cleary said she has gained an additional appreciation for working with her hands, and seeing the gratifying results of making something work like new again. 

Now, after excelling in her academics and proving her strength in the field through determination and advanced technical skills, Cleary will have the support of MVYouth and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission on her journey to becoming an airplane technician. 

“When I heard about the aviation program, I was hesitant because I didn’t know what it would take for me to get there,” Cleary said. “But once I learned some more about the program, I immediately fell in love.”

Along with putting her hands and tech savvy to the test, Cleary said she is looking forward to getting off the Island and having some brand-new experiences with some brand-new friends and colleagues. “The cohort I am in has a wide range of ages and various types of people who all have the same goal as I do,” Cleary said.

In a largely male-dominated field, Cleary said, she was happy to see two other women in her cohort, although her entire program consists of 23 people 

“It was nice to see other women at the orientation with me. When I was at the high school taking automotive classes, I was the only woman in the room,” Cleary said. 

When asked how being a woman advancing through a male-dominated field felt, Cleary said, “I feel more powerful, like I can really do something great. Growing up, I had three older brothers, so I know how that can be.”

Since a young age, Cleary said she has been largely independent, and has recognized her own accomplishments and set her own goals for the future. “There really hasn’t been anyone guiding me step by step. I’ve been able to do my own thing, and I like that,” Cleary said.

After the 15-month program at CCCC, Cleary said she wants to further her education and receive her associate’s degree in aeronautical engineering. She said BSU offers a degree in engineering that she will most likely pursue. 

Cleary said until recently, she didn’t know whether she would be able to meet the financial burden of receiving a higher education; but with the financial assistance of the MVYouth workforce development scholarship, she will be able to follow her dreams. 

“It was a last-minute decision for me, but I am so happy I chose this path. It’s a little overwhelming, but I am so excited to see what the future has in store for me,” Cleary said.

Executive director of MVYouth Lindsey Scott said Cleary is part of a small group graduating midyear, before the standard June graduation. Because the application process for MVYouth scholarships starts in February and wraps up at the beginning of May, Scott said, Cleary was in a tough situation with her early graduation.

“Kelly’s financial commitment was going to have to be immediate. We had never seen a situation where someone was graduating early and ahead of the application cycle,” Scott said.

But Scott said she saw immense promise in Cleary, and wanted to review her case early. “She was unanimously a kid we [MVYouth] wanted to support,” Scott said.

After other state and local scholarships, financial aid, and family contributions, Scott said MVYouth is footing the bill for the remainder of Cleary’s education.

“We support very-high-achieving academic performers, and we tend to focus on career and technical education programs for this scholarship. We have a service-based economy here on the Vineyard, with lots of lucrative jobs in the trades,” Scott said.

According to Scott, the entire MVYouth board saw Cleary as a “tenacious, motivated young woman who is pursuing a career in a field that doesn’t attract a lot of women.”

Scott said Cleary will serve as an example of success for young women on Martha’s Vineyard.

“When people see these successes, it becomes an opportunity for them too, because they understand that it is entirely achievable,” Scott said.

Although sometimes it seems like some indomitable hurdles lie in the way, Scott said the Island community is an incredible support system that can make a lot happen for young students.

“We want to rewrite the script for young people on Martha’s Vineyard who are considering entering these technical fields,” Scott said.

Airport Commission secretary Kristin Zern said the commission’s goal is to provide opportunities for young Islanders in the field of aviation. Instead of setting up their own fund, Zern said the commission worked to establish a fund within the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard.

“We are so happy to support Kelly in any way that we can. We knew she was incredibly passionate about her education, and had her sights firmly set on her goals,” Zern said. “I have no doubt she will excel in whatever path she chooses to take.”