Calumet students take first place in “Michigan Girls Future Flight Challenge”

Audra thurston and Merideth Labeau stand with MI girls Future Flight Challenge winners Jordan Hicks and Kristen Ylitalo

Pictured above (L-R): Audra Thurston, Jordan Hicks, Kristen Ylitalo, and Dr. Meredith LaBeau following their recognition as the top team in the Michigan Girls Future Flight Challenge.

CALUMET, Mich. – Two Upper Peninsula girls recently took the Michigan aerospace industry by storm! CLK Washington Middle School students Jordan Hicks and Kristen Ylitalo outperformed more than 20 teams throughout the state in the “Michigan Girls Future Flight Challenge”, hosted by the Women of Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan

Hicks and Ylitalo creatively rose to the challenge to design a sustainable, unique way of flight that solves a problem—impressing key players in the aerospace industry like Eaton, Array of Engineers, and Calumet Electronics. “Jordan and Kristen are exactly the type of energetic and strategic thinkers that are needed for the future of the aerospace industry” said Calumet Electronics’ Meredith LaBeau, CTO, and Audra Thurston, R&D Managing Engineer, who served as mentors throughout the four-week event.

After brainstorming on a variety of ideas and possibilities with Dr. LaBeau, Jordan and Kristen decided to tackle the challenge of fire damage. Using a 3D printed drone, a smoke detector, and a camera, the two developed a prototype that would quickly detect fires, alert firefighters, and enable them to immediately respond to the scene to limit as much damage as possible. In addition to developing the prototype, they were required to create marketing materials, as well as a business plan, and present a 15-page slide deck to a group of three judges from major corporations across the state.

As the aerospace industry continues to grow in Michigan, it is critical to get young girls excited about STEM and open their eyes to the multitude of career possibilities they could have. The “Michigan Girls Future Flight Challenge” served as an opportunity for girls to dip their toes into the industry as they begin to think about what their futures could look like. “We hope this program inspires young girls to get interested and pursue careers in STEM,” said Thurston. “The aerospace industry needs more people—especially women—who are excited about STEM and want to solve the world’s problems.”

Established as one of the most important printed circuit board suppliers in the country, Calumet Electronics is taking the lead to infuse young people into the industry to protect and grow the future of PCB manufacturing in America. “I was thrilled to work with Kristin and Jordan and show them that they have support to pursue a future in aerospace, whether that be on the business or engineering side,” said Dr. LaBeau. “It’s impressive that these girls competed against so many teams from across the entire state and won, representing their school, community, and the entire Upper Peninsula. I am so proud of them, and I know they both have bright futures ahead.”

Dr. LaBeau, Audra, and Calumet Electronics VP/COO Todd Brassard visited the 7th grade class to present Jordan and Kristen with $500 gift cards, hats, and notebooks and speak to the class to get them excited about aerospace.


To learn more about Calumet Electronics, career seekers and community members are encouraged to visit  Calumet currently employs over 300 people and manufactures high quality printed circuit boards for advanced power grid and communications, aerospace, defense, medical devices, and industrial controls.


AIAM is a non-profit platform for Michigan’s aerospace leaders to work together on a common set of priorities to strengthen and support the continued growth in the industry through talent attraction and new investment.

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