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Breaking down barriers and flying high

University of Southern Queensland graduand Rachel Kee has joined a long list of women who have broken with convention and defied the odds to make aviation history.

At just 19 years of age, she left her family in Malaysia and moved to Australia by herself to chase her passion.

“Where I grew up, pursuing a career in aviation to become a pilot was considered a job for men only, but that only motivated me to reach my goals,” Rachel said.

“Aviation degrees are very uncommon in Malaysia and I really wanted to have a higher education, which is why I was keen to move to Australia and study what I love.”

The life-changing move proved to be the best decision she could have made, as she became the first international student to finish the University of Southern Queensland’s Bachelor of Aviation.

“While moving to a new country was daunting at first, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience than studying at USQ,” she said.

“The aviation program allowed me to not only develop an understanding of the aviation industry and connect with real pilots and industry professionals, but also provided an avenue for personal and professional development.

“I particularly enjoyed getting my hands on the University’s Boeing 737 simulator during my first year of university.

“But aviation is much more than taking off and landing a plane. My degree taught me other important aspects such as management, organisation, airline safety and security.”

Despite successfully transitioning to university life in a new country and finishing a degree, Rachel knew her biggest challenge was still ahead.

“The aviation industry was heavily affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which drastically changed the job market and my chances of finding work,” she said.

“I was open to any opportunity to get my foot into the door, so I applied for jobs every day and refused to give up.”

Rachel’s persistence paid off. Three months after completing her degree, she was offered a job as a Compliance Officer at Archerfield Airport.\

“I was fairly surprised when I got the job offer. I thought I might be waiting until the sector started to return to normal before I would find a job, but I’m very lucky and grateful,” she said.

“I really enjoy my job and having an important role in making sure the airport is a safe environment for everyone.

“Additionally, I get to see planes and choppers fly in and out of the airport every day which is pretty cool.”

With her foot now in the door, Rachel is determined to step towards her ultimate goal of becoming a commercial airline pilot.

“My father once told me that he wanted to be a pilot, which is what sparked my interest in aviation,” she said.

“Ever since then, I have been captivated by the thought of seeing the world from the left-hand seat of an aircraft cockpit.

“Once the sector bounces back, I would like to work towards getting my commercial pilot licence and maybe join an airline’s cadetship program to gain an air transport pilot licence.”

It has been more than a year since Rachel last saw her family and friends back home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

She is set to graduate later this year in what will be a bittersweet moment.

“Sadly, my family won’t be able to attend my graduation ceremony because of COVID-19, which is unfortunate because they have always been supportive of my decisions and letting me follow my dreams,” she said.

The University of Southern Queensland’s Bachelor of Aviation at Springfield and Toowoomba offers education for aspiring pilots in the Flight Operations major, or for a ground-based role via the Aviation Management major.

It is the only university in the southern hemisphere to have two flight simulators – an Airbus A320 and a Boeing 737-800 – available for its aviation students.

Learn more about aviation at the University of Southern Queensland. 

women in cockpit smiling
Rachel Kee is the first international student to finish the University of Southern Queensland’s Bachelor of Aviation.