UBC student named aviation award-winner

Aviation has been a part of Larissa Chiu’s life for as long as she can remember. From a young age, her father shared his love of flying by spearheading family trips to airshows across the continent.

Those early experience helped set Chiu, now beginning her second year at UBC as an undergraduate student in the faculty of science, on a path towards a hard-earned position as a young leader in the Vancouver aviation community.

Her achievements and her already-lengthy record of giving back to the aviation community earned her the Rising Star award from the Northern Lights Aero Foundation, a non-profit that promotes women’s participation in aviation and recognizes outstanding individuals in the field. She will be honored at an award ceremony in Ontario on September 29.

One of the first major steps in that journey was when Chiu’s parents enrolled her in the Air Cadets program at age 12.

While she was initially unsure about whether she wanted to stay in the program or not, Chiu was drawn to the aviation classes that the cadets offered. “I was always that academically-inclined person,” she said. Through those classes, she learned some of the basics of flight, like the different axes on which planes move.

Eventually, Chiu learned about the glider pilot scholarship program offered by the cadets and, wanting to take her interest in aviation beyond the classroom, she submitted her application for consideration. She was accepted into the selective program — which only allots a small number of spaces for female cadets — in the summer of 2015 and began training to fly gliders.

“I was really proud of myself,” Chiu said, “but also proud to be not only representing myself but my squadron as well, and later on to know that I was representing a group of young women who aspire to be pilots.”

Learning to fly gliders was both a challenging and rewarding experience, which left Chiu with a number of important lessons like the value of teamwork and quick decision-making and how to move forward from mistakes.

She promptly began giving back, volunteering her time on the glider field and sharing her experiences with her fellow cadets.

Not satisfied with piloting only gliders, Chiu went on to receive her powered pilot’s license in 2016, further expanding her aviation skill set. Six months after receiving her license to fly powered planes, she qualified as a familiarization pilot, allowing her to take young cadets up on flights to introduce them to the experience of piloting a small single-engine plane.

Chiu flew familiarization flights with the cadets for two years before aging out of the program. She loved being able to share her passion for flight with younger cadets and found it incredibly rewarding to be able to serve as a role model, inspiring others to pursue aviation like she had been inspired in the past.

“I started in that copilot’s seat or in the back, looking up to this pilot and thinking, ‘One day I want wings, one day I want to be like that person,’” she said.

Chiu brought her love of flying with her to UBC, quickly becoming involved with the Aviation Club, which she now leads as president.

Outside of aviation, she has become increasingly drawn to neuroscience, holding a VP position in the UBC Neuroscience Club and doing lab research concerning children with learning disabilities.

Chiu hopes to merge her interests in aviation and neuroscience in the future by either researching some of the unique physiological effects that aviators and astronauts experience, or by getting involved with a service like Angel Flight, which provides free air transport to care facilities for cancer patients.

When asked what advice she would give to young people aspiring to become pilots, Chiu highlighted the importance of persistence.

“Keep dreaming,” she said. “Know what you want and strive for it.”