Caterina Leam is flying high

As a young child, Caterina Leam’s parents would take her to the airport to plane spot – being the inquisitive child she was she had a lot of questions, because she said she could not “wrap her head” around how a plane could possibly stay up in the air. That led to her doing independent research in her teenage years, which she said “opened her eyes” to the field of aeronautics, and ultimately led to her deciding on a career path for herself.

Leam’s aspiration is to become a commercial pilot for major airlines. The trajectory the 17-year-old sees herself taking is flying locally initially, and then moving into the international arena.

“Not only did the science behind aeronautics pique my interest, but also the history. I came to realize that this was a heavily male-dominated field, and seen by the public as a man’s job, and from then I had it set in my mind I would change society’s perception,” said Leam.

The 12th grade Lyford Cay International School student, opted to personalize her senior years instruction, with Career-related Programme (CP) studies, which has resulted in her recently completing her first assisted flight. She co-captained a Piper Aztec, a twin-engine light aircraft with six seats, typically used for island hopping, with pilot-in-command Ryan Moree from New Providence to Norman’s Cay.

“Flying in the Piper Aztec was my first time flying in the sky, and even being inside a small aircraft,” said Leam. “It was an amazing groundbreaking experience. In the past, I have spent a large portion of my time flying a larger jet, the Boeing 737-800 in a simulator.

“The experience needless to say was incredible. It increased the amount of passion and determination I have towards my career, and solidified to myself that what I was putting all of my effort into what would always keep a smile on my face.”

She said making her dreams reality was an opportunity she was beyond fortunate to have.

“In terms of excitement, I would be lying if I didn’t say everything had me excited – from putting on the uniform, to being 3,500 feet in the air … it all had me giddy. As this was my first flight, I did encounter challenges, mainly with communications to air traffic control (ATC). Primarily, I found myself to be slightly nervous talking on a frequency with dozens of other very experienced international and local pilots listening to me. Although after some time and on our way back to Nassau from Norman’s Cay, I was much more efficient and concise with communication. Not only was this a fun experience, but also educational. I learned the basics of pre-flight inspection, ATC communication, uncontrolled and controlled airports, and simply the typical life of an island pilot.”

In April 2021, according to the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority, there were only 13 licensed female pilots in The Bahamas – captains Gwendolyn Ritchie, Frances Smith and Gail Saunders; as well as Whitney McIntosh, Julliana Mehalis, Sherelle McSweeny, Laurie Johnson, Kenrece Carey, Chavan Pinder, Larona Miller, Sheryl Carey, Denise Bethel and Vashty Roberts – in the traditionally male-dominated field that Leam has goals of infiltrating.

Smith, Ritchie and Saunders also hold the distinction of being Bahamasair’s first female captains. They were promoted in 2012, and followed in the footsteps of Patrice Clarke-Washington, the first female pilot hired by Bahamasair in 1984, nearly 11 years after it opened. At the time, Clarke was the only female professional 

pilot in The Bahamas. She has gone on to become the first female Black pilto hired by United Parcel Service (UPS); in 1994 she was promoted to captain, becoming the first Black female, and one of only 11 female captains to command planes for a major United States airline.

LCIS says their students develop critical thinking skills and become innovative problem solvers through their rigorous and challenging curriculum. Students in grades nine and 10 follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP), while LCIS offers both the IB Diploma Programme (DP) and (CP to students in grades 11 and 12. All graduates earn the LCIS high school diploma and can personalize their studies with the IB course of study that meets their goals.

Leam said she made the decision to take the CP route to not only get a head start on others in my field, but also to display to universities that she has a drive and passion for aviation.

“This program allows me to put the majority of my focus on aviation, and structure my classes and activities around it. The CP is an amazing option for students like myself who know from early on which direction professionally they are looking to take their life, in order to achieve goals and dreams even quicker.”

Leam has been accepted to five universities, all of which offer degrees in aviation-related fields, and has been awarded $258,000 worth of scholarships, across the schools.

The major she declares will ultimately depend upon the school she commits to, but she says she is more than likely going to major in aeronautical science with a minor in aviation management, and a focus in flight training which will allow her to obtain all of the pilot licenses necessary to obtain her career goals.

Five former LCIS students have successfully completed the CP – Jostin Wilson and Camrawn Cox from the class of 2020; and Kailen Colebrooke, Yonnick Charlton and William Schindel from the class of 2021.

O’Niel Bain, LCIS marketing and communications director said LCIS is committed to offering a quality IB education that provide students with the best preparation for university study and all aspects of their post-secondary life.

“Introducing the IB-Career Related Programme was a continuation of this aim as well as an effort to increase personalized learning opportunities for our students,” said Bain. “We are proud to now be one of less than 50 schools in the world to offer all four IB programs.”

Leam says her LCIS education has been transformative.

“To be transformative means causing an important and everlasting change in someone, and this is exactly what LCIS sets out to do an accomplishes with its education, service learning, community outreach, and tight-knit community. I truly believe the education LCIS has provided me with has transformed me into the person I am today. I can confidently say I am now more than ever avidly open-minded, have a plethora of knowledge under my belt, and also have developed into a principled member of society. The IB education has made me into a well-rounded individual,” said Leam.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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