Stephanie McCloud gives the expression “reach for the sky” an entirely new meaning.
“I’ve always had a love for aviation and planes,” said McCloud. “Aviation is the common denominator in all I do.”
What McCloud does includes working as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, serving one weekend each month as a U.S. Air Force Reservist, and running Take Flight for Girls, a nonprofit she co-founded to introduce girls to aviation and aerospace careers.
If you want to keep up with McCloud, you’d better be ready for takeoff.
“I don’t rest a lot,” she said.
But she did remain on the ground long enough to recently complete the FOCUS Women in Leadership (WIL) program, a three-month course conducted by the nonprofit FOCUS St. Louis. With more than 1,300 graduates, the WIL program offers women opportunities to further develop their leadership skills, engage deeper in the St. Louis community, and connect with other women from diverse backgrounds.
Regions Bank in St. Louis sponsored McCloud’s participation in WIL as a Take Point Scholarship recipient. It’s the newest aspect of a four-year community collaboration between the bank and FOCUS St. Louis that also brings the Veterans Business Resource Center into the fold. The $2,000 scholarships are awarded to active-duty military members, veterans, and military spouses.
“Our military personnel and their families make countless sacrifices to protect our freedoms,” said Scott Hartwig, Greater St. Louis market executive for Regions Bank. “Supporting the Take Point Scholarship offers Regions Bank a direct opportunity to give back. It’s an initiative we’re incredibly proud to support.”
The initiative is one also promoting collaboration between the military and civilian community.
“Our FOCUS civic leadership programs are unique in bringing together individuals across sectors and industries, and our active-duty service members and veterans bring an important perspective to our classes,” said Dr. Yemi Akande-Bartsch, president and CEO of FOCUS St. Louis. “We are grateful to Regions Bank for their generous support of the Take Point Scholarship to help ensure our programs remain accessible to the military community.”
McCloud wasn’t sure what to expect following her WIL program acceptance during a pandemic. While the course includes some reading, it primarily focuses on in-person connections through panel discussions, keynote presenters, and two class projects. McCloud’s class shifted to conducting almost all sessions online.
“I didn’t expect the program to be so family-like since we had to do this virtually,” said McCloud. “But it was a really good experience seeing other people’s skill sets while getting to know them. We keep in touch and have even been able to get together a couple times.”
McCloud credits her military service for skills she called on repeatedly.
“Being in the Air Force has taught me a lot,” she said. “I’ve learned adaptability and flexibility if things change, as well as being resilient. Being able to bounce back and push through helps me when things are heavy mentally and emotionally.”
Akande-Bartsch observed those traits and more in McCloud.
“Stephanie was well-suited for Women in Leadership because she had a strong desire to grow her leadership skills and influence,” Akande-Bartsch said. “She was open-minded, offered thoughtful insights and found her voice during the course.”
Military service runs deep in McCloud’s family, so it was no surprise when she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2007. Her father, two grandfathers, and uncles are all veterans. Her role as an aviation resource manager at Scott Air Force Base includes being part of the primary transport team assisting with travel for the First Lady of United States, congressional leaders, and foreign dignitaries.
McCloud also credits her flight attendant experience with teaching her agility, as well as offering her a unique view.
“There’s so much of the world we don’t get to see,” she said. “Flying offers that higher-altitude perspective. I’ll look out the window and think, ‘Wow, look how connected we all are.’ Exploration is an adventurous and spiritual thing for me. Even if I’ve been somewhere before, I explore and experience new people and new food each time.”
McCloud’s nonprofit Take Flight for Girls has been working to create that same sense of wonder and possibility for girls aged 8 to 21 in St. Louis and Atlanta since 2014.
“I didn’t know anything about the vast opportunities available in this field,” McCloud explained. “There’s been such a lack of diversity in aviation fields, with the ratio of females being very low.”
Take Flight for Girls is addressing that through several girl-exclusive programs, including summer camps, school events, and Aviation Day, where the nonprofit works with St. Louis University, the St. Louis Downtown Airport, and industry leaders to provide hands-on experiences for up to 250 girls. The event’s highlight involves a flight to the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield.
Take Flight for Girls has served nearly 1,000 girls so far, with plans to expand.
“Some of the girls who attended our first summer camp are now pilots,” said McCloud, who earned her private pilot license years ago. “I love what I do, and I’m working to instill that same love into the girls we serve. I’m focused on creating a legacy. It’s about impacting other people’s lives.”
Similar to the impact of the Women in Leadership program.
“Women in Leadership is, by far, one of the best leadership training programs I’ve participated in,” said McCloud. “The scholarship I received helped me so I can help someone else. It’s creating a chain reaction. I believe it’s always important to give back.”
Giving back to help others soar higher than they ever imagined.