Stretching the Mind

By Tara Chklovski

September 2016

My father was a bomber pilot in the Indian Air Force, and I grew up wanting to fly planes as well. We didn't have too much money, but our family friends would give me old airplane magazines that I would cut up and put in my aerospace scrapbook. Most of the pictures in that scrapbook were Boeing airplanes.

As I grew older, I began to study my dad's flight training books and dreamed of flying Boeing airplanes. But at that point, the only way to become a pilot was to go through the Indian Air Force, if you didn't have the funds to get your PPL (private pilot license).

By the time I was a teenager, the IAF did begin to invite women in, but they had to be tall, with a leg length of 39 inches. Mine was only 35 inches. So I spent many summers hanging upside down from a tree, reading books, trying to increase my leg length -- unsuccessfully.

So I decided to change course and become an aerospace engineer and make airplanes that I could fly myself. I came to the United States to do my M.S. in aerospace engineering and then was in a Ph.D. program at USC, Southern California.

I was very struck by the lack of women in the hard sciences and engineering in the U.S. This to me was a very, very serious problem and so I decided to fix it. I started Iridescent, a science, technology and engineering education nonprofit that would train engineers to inspire children, especially girls, to become innovators and leaders.

And the magic of it all. I got to work with Boeing, finally, and interview more than 20 amazing Boeing engineers working on the most cutting-edge stuff -- and inspire thousands of children worldwide to become innovators like them. Dreams come true!