By LaShonda Clarke
Photograph courtesy of Lyford Cay Foundations
As a child, LaShonda Clarke’s grandfather would take her on Sunday drives by the airport to watch planes fly overhead. Little did he know that these weekend excursions would instill in his granddaughter a lifelong fascination with the mechanics of these gravity-defying machines, leading her to shatter the glass ceiling of Bahamians in the field of aviation mechanics.
But it wasn’t easy for this graduate of Doris Johnson Senior High to break into this male-dominated field. Without the funds to pursue her passion in formal studies, Clarke instead entered the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in the Supplies Department, adjusting uniforms and procuring supplies. It would take five years for her to request—and receive approval for—a job change, shifting into the Air Wing Department to begin her career in aviation mechanics.
“Everyone looked confused when I first picked up a tool,” she said. “The only other women they had seen there before were the secretary and a stewardess, not the ‘getting greasy’ type.”
Learning on the job, Clarke then took out a loan and used her vacation time to earn her airframe and powerplant license at Jacksonville State College in Florida, USA, becoming one of the first in her cohort of field-trained male peers to secure this foundational certification, and the first woman in the military to earn this distinction.
“On the job, it validated what I was doing—to be equal in the eyes of the men I worked with,” she said. “I always wanted to get a degree, because I knew it would open up opportunities, and this was the first step.”
From there, Clarke was able to apply for—and receive—a technical training and vocational scholarship from Lyford Cay Foundations in 2016 to complete her associate’s degree in aviation maintenance management at St. Petersburg College in Florida. She transferred to Lewis University in Illinois to build upon this achievement with a bachelor’s degree in the field, and then became a two-time Lyford Cay Foundations Scholar when she received a graduate scholarship in 2018 to complete her Master of Science in aviation and transportation at the institution.
Having completed the capstone for her studies, Clarke plans to train for another year in the field and then return home to explore options for improving access to educational programs in aviation maintenance. She hopes to provide the support that she lacked so that eventually Bahamians interested in this career path won’t need to travel abroad for necessary certifications.
“I’d like to thank the Lyford Cay Foundations because if they didn’t give me that hand up, I wouldn’t have gotten here,” she said. “They listened to my story and I’m glad they saw potential and persistence in me. So, if I can make it easier for someone else to start or achieve their career, I’d like to do it.”