Elaine Schreiber | 27 years old | Project Manager at ICON Aircraft
Team Captain of the Sacramento Lady Suns | All Around Badass.
Elaine’s warm, genuine smile takes up half her face. She is petite and pixieish and a quote from A Midsummer’s Night Dream springs to mind: “And though she be but little, she is fierce”. Not simply her demeanor, but because she bubbles over with life, managing to be both sprightly and doggedly determined all at once. Elaine is conquering the world. When I say this I do not mean that she is violently oppressing anyone; quite the opposite. With women, conquering the world means mastering their own insecurities and finding the courage to pursue and accomplish great things, and this Elaine does with gusto. This is her story, a tale of barreling at mach speed into the future and leaving fears in the dust.
Elaine knows something of velocity, she has a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She has worked on engines for the next generation space shuttle and tested engines that were used to launch cargo up to the International Space Station (ISS) last year at Aerojet Rocketdyne. Currently she is the Project Manager at an innovative start-up called ICON Aircraft, where she designs Sport Planes. The Sport Plane Revolution is so forward thinking and unique that ICON has created an entirely new category of aircraft, as well as a new category of pilot license, both aimed specifically at consumer recreational flying. The wings fold for storage and easy transportation, and it is amphibious, so you can tow it to a local waterway and take off. The cockpit is intuitive and resembles the inside of a luxury vehicle, making flying easier and more comfortable than ever. One day they will be as common as speed boats and motorhomes. She is designing our future.
Did she always dream of being a rocket scientist? No, but she did dream of success, and that ideal evolved as she did, becoming everything from the Pink Power Ranger to a plastic surgeon. She tells me, “Most people have the perception that they are suited for one ideal career path and exhaust all their energy agonizing over if they are on it. My primary drivers were to find something that was interesting, challenging and logical in an economic sense. I made a decision, and instead of worrying if it was the right one, I have spent all my energy on mastering it. There were secondary drivers to the decision, that included a fascination with exploring the universe, and being able to work on some of the most precise and complex mechanical systems in the world.” Elaine isn’t wasting any time looking in the rearview mirror.
Her growth as a woman is inspiring, “My greatest challenge was finding my voice. I have a very distracting internal dialogue.” Elaine was a shy child. She remembers tugging on her teachers sleeves to get their attention, and being terrified of strangers sitting next to her on the school bus. “I fought hard to be the person I am today. I fought stereotypes, self-doubt and overwhelming self-criticism.” She overcame these early challenges, but she is constantly striving for further growth. “...I always believe there is a better version of myself right around the corner.” There are days when she still has to remind herself to speak up, that her perspective has value. She is not alone in this struggle. Confident women the world over give themselves the same internal pep talk. The epiphany that launched her voice was the sudden realization that “...leadership is not just reserved for elected officials, civil activists or charismatic entrepreneurs.” Leadership is a responsibility that shouldn’t be shirked because we have lionized it beyond the realm of possibility. It is our duty to lead when we are able, to find solutions and take aim at building a better future. Elaine is inspired and humbled by the pioneers of women in Engineering and Aerospace that came before her, and she draws strength from this history, becoming one of the women propelling us forward. She doesn’t allow others to set her standards for her, realizing she is the only one who can decide what it means for her to excel.
I am curious to discover what ‘secret weapon’ a successful woman in aerospace engineering uses to get through her challenging days. The answer originates from a study published a couple of years ago on age and wisdom, where a range of cultures were assessed based on criteria considered by psychologists to be the 5 crucial aspects of wise reasoning. She keeps these five sentences above her work desk “...which aim to ground me and give me something to strive for.”
1. Be willing to seek opportunities to resolve conflict. 2. Be willing to search for compromise. 3. Recognize the limits of personal knowledge. 4. Be aware that more than one perspective on a problem can exist. 5. Appreciate the fact that things may get worse before they get better.
Wise words indeed. All work and no play, breeds stale ideas and Elaine ensures that she plays just as much as she works. “It’s that easy to balance the scale.” As captain of the Sacramento Suns Women’s Australian Rules Football Team, she gets ample opportunity and motivation to weight the play side of the scale. Elaine is petite and ‘footy’ is a contact sport, just further evidence of her dogged determination. “I love the camaraderie that comes with having a team and the passion that the game elicits.” In 2011 she played on the USA Women’s team at the championships in Sydney. The US team was not expected to make much of a showing, but they surprised everyone by taking home the third place medal. Where Elaine is concerned, it is best not to make any assumptions about what she can or cannot do. From being an avid motorcyclist, to competing in the Tough Mudder for the Wounded Warrior Project, to traveling the globe, her appetite for adventure is voracious. Her favorite place? “Iceland. All of it. But, preferably not in the dead of winter.” All of this badassery comes with an infectious smile. While she is serious about mastering her craft, her approach is with genuine warmth, she lights up a room with laughter, she is the rock people cling to in a storm. Her advice to other women? “Dream big, stand tall, embody the best and most confident version of yourself. Don’t get discouraged by those who seek to set limitations for you. Ask for help when you need it, you don’t have to do it all on your own.” “...and kittens, snuggle with kittens.”