FAA Expresses "Yakoke" to Choctaw Nation for Hosting a Beneficial Career Expo
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No matter what language you speak, appreciation is a valued and understood expression. In Choctaw Nation’s native language, "Yakoke" means thank you, and the FAA is grateful for the opportunity to have recently participated in a one-of-a-kind virtual career expo event.

On Wednesday, November 18th, a couple of employees from the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center volunteered their time to participate virtually as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) outreach representatives to nearly 7,500 high school students (9th-12th grades) within the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma boundaries, and among tribal members nationwide. Amanda Taylor, a Research Engineer in the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute’s Aeromedical Engineering Sciences Division (AAM-632) and Rahdames ’Nick’ Villafana, an Aviation Safety Inspector/Instructor in the FAA Academy’s Airworthiness Branch (AMA-250), along with his wife, Danielle (a commercial airline captain) provided a 10-minute recording about their careers and how they chose their professions. Each video segment was carefully thought out, providing students with a personal reflection of some distinctive aerospace careers.

The virtual event involved 50 different vendors, including business and industry representatives and college/training facilities. The event was designed to provide key experiences that are required by Oklahoma’s Individual Career Academic Plan (ICAP), which are legislated as high school graduation requirements. The Expo opened with a message from Amberly Snyder, (a nationally known motivational speaker) including a traditional Choctaw cultural enrichment experience. The rest of the day, students explored various interactive sessions on-line and engaged with vendors who provided career-relevant demonstrations, and presentations through multiple sessions within 5 career sectors:

  • Allied Health
  • Energy, Engineering, & Aerospace
  • Construction & Architecture
  • Law Enforcement & Public Safety
  • Hospitality & Tourism

Speakers at the event included Astronaut Dr. John B. Herrington, Imagineers from the Walt Disney Company, the Oklahoma City Thunder Basketball representatives, IBM, U.S. Secret Service, and various military recruiters.

Many vendors offered pre-recorded video segments for students and teachers to review at their convenience. While the major activities occurred on November 18th, students/parents/teachers could access video segments and content up until December 4th.

The event was conducted via the Whova platform. Participants could download Whova through a mobile device or a web browser. This delivery method provided an exciting way to interact with and engage students, using a goal-driven career plan. Students were given an abundance of resources regarding topics of career planning, financial aid information, job searching, and helpful sessions designed specifically for parents of high school students.

The Oklahoma Department of CareerTech in partnership with Choctaw Nation is very interested in bridging the gap between education and industry. It is more important now - more than ever - for students to have a better understanding of the businesses and opportunities available – right here in Oklahoma – and across our nation. ’Yakoke’ to the Choctaw Nation for providing an abundance of resources to our youth, and helping them to be better prepared for the realities of entering the workforce.

Video of Amanda Taylor
Amanda M. Taylor, Research Engineer for the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City

Amanda M. Taylor is a Research Engineer for the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute’s Protection and Survival Laboratory in the area of occupant protection. She conducts crash tests (from components to full-scale regional jet impacts) overseeing various university research programs, working with the military, NASA and other civil aviation authorities. She is called upon to assist in various types of accident investigations, and she presents research findings at various locations. She has been with the FAA since 2006, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Central Oklahoma, and Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Engineering from Purdue University. She has authored or co-authored several papers concerning the safety of occupants in aircraft, aircraft seats, and restraint systems.

Video link of Rahdames "Nick" Villifana
Danielle and Nick Villafana share their love of aviation careers with Oklahoma’s youth.

Rahdames "Nick" Villafana is an Aviation Safety Inspector and Course Manager in the FAA Academy’s Airworthiness Branch. Prior to joining the FAA he worked on Apache helicopters and was an instructor in the U.S. Army. For several years he flew drones in Afghanistan. Nick has worked on aircraft at a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul facility where he worked on heavy passenger and cargo aircraft. He has also earned several certifications from the FAA, such as Advanced Ground Instructor, Instrument Ground Instructor, a Certified Aircraft Mechanic, Certified Flight Instructor, Certified Flight Instrument Instructor and a Multi-Engine Instructor. Nick has a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle University, and a Master’s degree in Aerospace Administration and Logistics from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Keeping aviation in the family, Nick’s wife, Danielle Villafana is an Airline Captain for Piedmont Airlines. Prior to working for Piedmont Airlines, she was a Flight Instructor at Falcon Aviation Academy in Newnan, GA providing flight instruction to international and domestic students. She also flew drones in Afghanistan as a contractor providing support for the U.S. Military. Danielle also has a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics from Liberty University. Together, Nick and Danielle love to talk with youth about possible careers in aviation.

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