Head in the clouds, heart in her community

Patricia Pena performs a preflight inspection of an aircraft wing on a Cessna 172
Pena performs a preflight inspection at the Ohio State flight school

It takes a lot of guts to fly an airplane — it also takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Nobody knows this quite like Patricia Pena, a flight student at The Ohio State University whose dream is to have an office in the clouds.

Pena is from Santa Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, and ventured more than 1,700 miles to Cleveland, Ohio to pursue her dreams.

“I’ve always wanted a career in aviation. I’m a globally minded professional and want to be everywhere at the same time,” says Pena. She wants to see every part of the world that she can.

Having a sky-high workplace has been on Pena’s mind since she was a kid. When she finally made it to the U.S. to study air transportation at Ohio State, she admits it was a struggle at first.

“There wasn’t a lot of students who looked like me and I felt alone in my classes. I didn’t want to be the only one asking questions,” she says. “Over time, I gained more confidence and I feel very welcome here.”

Pena is an air transportation major in the College of Arts & Science and strives to have a career as a private pilot. In her classes, she learns about the ins and outs of weather, aerodynamics, geography — the list goes on. She confessed that the curriculum is more complex than she thought, but she’s confident in her skills and abilities. Likewise, her passion for the field drives her. She loves to fly and nothing is going to stop her.

As one can imagine, coming to the United States alone is nerve-wracking. Pena attributes her success to the support of her community. She is a member of Esperanza, an organization that provides mentoring, leadership building and support to Hispanic students and families in Northeast Ohio.

“I’m doing good because of them,” says Pena. “I feel supported and like I could go to them for anything.”

Patricia Pena writes with pavement chalk
As 2021 Miss Latina Image, Pena gives back to the community | photo submitted

Pena has been able to make great connections and receive excellent opportunities through Esperanza, such as representing the Latina Image Leadership Program as the 2021 Miss Latina Image. Pena attributes Esperanza’s support to her academic success.

Avanzando Through College is another program that she holds close to her heart. The Avanzando through College Leadership Program equips students with skills, information and networks to support their success at Ohio State. Pena has gotten the opportunity to attend conferences in Chicago, meet other Hispanic professionals, receive mentorship and improve her interview skills.

“They’ve helped me succeed academically and I’ve gotten to meet so many new people.”

When Pena isn’t airborne, she spends her time on the ground working with the nonprofits that got her to where she is today.

“I like working with them because I like the feeling of giving back to the community that gave a lot to me when I first came here,” she says. “They made me the person that I am today, they were my family.”

Pena says nonprofits like Esperanza gave her so many opportunities and because of them she has done things she never would have gotten to do without them, like be in the newspaper, on TV and the radio. She has been able to connect with amazing people who have motivated Pena. She recently had the chance to meet the founder of the Latinas in Aviation brand, Jacqueline Camacho, who Pena considers a mentor. Pena says that Camacho’s books were a huge inspiration for her when she started flying, and that she feels a strong connection to Camacho because they are both “pilotinas” (Pilot-Latina). Pena reiterates how much the support from her community and fellow Buckeye aviators have helped her achieve her dreams.

Pena has overcome many obstacles in her life and says those obstacles have shaped who she has become. Her story is inspiring to many young girls and Latinas, to whom she says this: “Don’t ever think you don’t belong. The world doesn’t need more of the same thing. Being diverse is what gives you value. You’re unique!”

Patricia Pena vision board
Ohio State's Avanzando Through College program leaders created vision boards to define their goals and dreams

by Carrie White, professional writing intern

Category: Students