For student pilot Serena Fechter, the flight line at Embry-Riddle is one of her happy places. For student pilot Serena Fechter, the flight line at Embry-Riddle is one of her happy places.
For student pilot Serena Fechter, the flight line at Embry-Riddle is one of her happy places.

Success Follows Aspiring Aviator and Pageant Contestant from One Runway to Another

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Serena Fechter (’26) likes how the world looks from the flight deck of an aircraft.

That privileged perspective has fueled her passion for aviation and brought Serena to the B.S. in Aeronautical Science program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott Campus.

“It's seeing the world from a different view,” said Serena, a native of Vancouver, Washington, just north of Portland, Oregon. “We're stuck with this ground perspective where we're looking up at everything. When you fly, you look down and see everything differently. It's just amazing.”

From Piloting to Pageants

Although she is absorbed in her flight training and the demands of challenging coursework at one of the world’s top universities, Serena is committed to competing in the Miss Arizona 2024 USA competition through Miss America as the reigning Miss Desert Willow.

“In my freshman year of high school, I started competing in the Miss America organization through my local pageant back home,” Serena said. “Although I didn’t win, I made incredible friends, and I started gaining lifelong skills such as how to do interviews, how to write resumes and how to apply for scholarships. And I just had the best time going out there and building my confidence.”

That confidence, to say nothing of the scholarships she’s earned, helps Serena thrive as a flight student at Embry-Riddle even though she’s more than 1,200 miles from home.

“Obviously, it's hard; it takes a lot of dedication, a lot of sweat, a lot of tears,” she said. “But here, we're being trained by some of the best pilots to become the best pilots. That’s something I am so grateful for.”

Serena started flying in her senior year at Columbia River High School at a Part 61 operation based at Pearson Field Airport, right next to the river, training in Cessna 150s and 152s with basic “six-pack” instrument panels.

“It's Echo airspace inside of Charlie airspace, which is really fun to fly,” she said. “And flying in the Pacific Northwest is so beautiful.”

In fact, among her final flights before resuming her flight training at Embry-Riddle was with her instructor on a sightseeing tour over Mount St. Helens.

“It was just so crazy and so cool to fly right at the top of this mountain and see it that way,” Serena said. “It was beautiful.”

As she was building her hours and skills as an aviator, Serena also did a dual enrollment program and earned an associate in arts degree, which allowed her to start sophomore classes when she arrived at Embry-Riddle for the Fall 2023 term.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Science student Serena Fechter will be competing in the 2024 Miss Arizona pageant. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Connor McShane)
Serena Fechter is proud of her accomplishments as a pilot and as a pageant contestant. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/Connor McShane)

A Different Kind of Runway

She participated in several pageants throughout high school and earned almost $5,000 in scholarships, with the high point coming in the Miss Washington’s Teen contest.

“I placed in the Top 10 and I won top Interview out of all 25 candidates and also in the preliminary evening gown [category],” she said. “I was so grateful for that, and I think it really showed off the hard work that I've put in. I actually thought I was going to be done competing after that.”

But then Serena connected with Electrical Engineering major Molly Ruley, who was Miss Yavapai County in 2023 and also competed in the Miss Arizona pageant.

“I wasn’t sure, but she kept saying, do it, it will be fun!’” Serena recalled. “She convinced me, and the event was held here on campus, so I could literally walk there from my dorm.”

It turned out to be a worthwhile walk. Serena earned the Miss Desert Willow 2024 crown, which came with $10,000 in scholarship money and allowed her to “make some great friends” from all across Arizona.

Another benefit was continuing to raise awareness for Serena’s community service initiative to help support Helping Hands 4 Humanity, which strives to improve the lives of needy or underprivileged children and families by providing them with materials and assistance to improve their access to education.

“I'm very glad I decided to do it,” she said. “I think the world works out how it's supposed to.”

Why Earn an Aeronautical Science Degree from Embry-Riddle?

And no matter how the upcoming Miss Arizona competition works out, Serena is also very glad she chose Embry-Riddle.

“It had so much more to offer me than any other school,” she said. “We're able to network with companies that we want to work with and make those connections. Those are things that other colleges couldn't promise me.”

So far, Serena says, the school has lived up to its promise. One of her favorite events was the Career Fair in October, where she ended up among five finalists for a coveted internship at Alaska Airlines.

“I didn’t get it, but that's OK,” she said. “I still have next year and the year after that, and I was also able to connect with some female pilots from United Airlines who were available to mentor me and prepare me to go to United if that's where I choose to work. And it’s those networking connections that we get while we're at the school that are so important.”

Beyond the thrill of flying brand new Cessna 172 G1000s—quite a leap from Cessna 152s with steam gauges—Serena has also been inspired by the encouragement of her student pilot peers and the quality of instruction, particularly from Assistant Professor of Aeronautical Science Ed Ray Stevens, a former United Airlines pilot who teaches Crew Resource Management.

“He gives us these real things that he’s experienced, or his friends have experienced, and we get to learn about them and what we would do in those situations,” she said. “He just really inspires me overall and gets me excited to go to the airlines. And I think that's what the professors here really do to prepare us for our futures.”

Networking Connections That Count for Tomorrow

As she looks toward her next horizon, Serena has a single goal in mind.

“I want to be a captain for an airline,” she said. “I’m not 100% sure which one yet, but I'll be grateful for any opportunity that's given to me.”

While she isn’t certain where she wants to fly, Serena is certain she will be prepared and have plenty of opportunities to choose from.

“Embry-Riddle has set me up to apply for those airlines that I think are best suited for me and also given me the exposure to airlines that I wouldn't have considered before,” she said. “They're able to get me direct connections with recruiters and with airline programs like United Aviate and many others. That's something that not every school can give me. And that's another reason why I chose Embry Riddle.”

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