Growing up in the Florida Keys, 2022 Tillman Scholar Elisa McGhee had a strong desire to learn to fly from a young age. Noting the “lively sea and shifting winds” shaped her perspective on the world as a child, these forces drove her to take flight as a teenager to observe the earth from above. Elisa went on to combine her passion for aviation with her education as she pursued her degree in research meteorology from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Her education allowed her to commission and become an Air Force C-130 pilot. Her service was highlighted by flying low-level airdrop missions in the mountains of Afghanistan and later, leading formations over the jungles of western Africa and the endless glaciers of Alaska. Elisa then became a civilian instructor of geoscience and meteorology at the U.S. Air Force Academy, taking breaks to deploy as a Reserve pilot. There, she focused on strengthening cadet research skills and influencing women to become military pilots. Off-duty, she invested her time in civilian aviation to instruct underprivileged high school students in several non-profit organizations over the next decade.
Continuing her work with mentoring youth, Elisa recently helped with an event hosted by Women in Aviation. WIA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the encouragement and advancement of women in all aviation and aerospace career fields and interests. As a strong representative of this mission, Elisa helped engage youth in aviation crafts, drone flying, and free flights in the Aims College fleet aircraft.
She now listens to Antarctic ice tremors as a doctoral student at Colorado State University, analyzing ambient seismic noise to evaluate the mechanisms which fracture the Ross Ice Shelf as it faces detachment from land. Elisa aims to distill her research into relatable material for the public to engage with, empowering people to share the science of our rapidly changing planet. She also seeks to amplify the voices of people who are directly affected by our current natural resource challenges.