NASFAA’s National Conference in San Diego began on Thursday with the opening session outlining what attendees can expect for the next few days, and a keynote from Lt. Colonel Olga Custodio, the first Latina U.S. military pilot, about her story of success in a male-dominated field.
The annual conference is a collaboration from administrators from “different schools serving different students” coming together to collaborate on solutions for difficult issues that are coming down the pipeline, like new regulations from the Department of Education (ED), the return to student loan repayment, the Supreme Court’s decision barring race-conscious admissions policies, and more, said NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger.
Draeger then asked attendees to think about what beats drive the rhythm of NASFAA. He noted access, success, equity, learning, and inclusion, as beats of the financial aid profession.
“These are the rhythms that keep us going,” Draeger said. “And I'd like to think that this conference over the next three-and-a-half days will be a mixing board where we can collaborate together, find the brilliance in this room, and find new solutions to new problems.”
Custodio then shared how she became the first Latina woman to complete the U.S. Air Force military pilot training. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where her father was a sergeant in the United States Army, Custodio is a self-described “military brat” and lived all over the world, from Taiwan to Iran to Paraguay to New Jersey.
She said she always had an interest in serving the United States Army, particularly in the Air Force, but received several rejections from her college’s ROTC program and U.S. Army and Air Force recruiters solely based on her gender. But after 10 years, at the age of 26, she applied to the United States Air Force Officer Training School and was accepted as a pilot candidate — the first Latina and among the first female military pioneers to graduate from U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training.
“I found out that denial does not mean that it's never going to happen,” Custodio said. “It’s just a delay because you don't have the right experience or you're not in the right place or you don't have the education. But as long as you do not give up the possibility for an opportunity, it will always be there.”
Custodio then transitioned to working as a commercial pilot, where during her start time, women just made just 0.01% of the piloting profession. Now, she said, women make up between 5 to 6% off the pilot profession. While she has a lot of achievements and “firsts,” Custodio clarified that was never her motivation.
“It should happen because I was pursuing my passion, finding my purpose and getting into that position,” she said.
Custodio closed her keynote by telling attendees the Spanish phrase “querer es poder,” which means “where there's a will, there is power.”
“I challenge you to reflect on your self doubts and see what you need to be aware of,” she said. “Look inside and see how you're going to approach these challenges.”
Publication Date: 6/30/2023