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Sights set high

Of the 22 students taking advanced automotive at North Medford High School this semester, Marlena Cromwell is the only girl.

Marlena started taking auto shop as a freshman, but only because the sculpture class was full. Since then, she’s taken it nearly every semester. At the beginning, she was just taking apart lawn mowers and putting them back together, but this year, she and her classmate repaired a 2001 Toyota Camry.

And on Thursday, her auto teacher and mentor, Tim Ponzoha, awarded her with a toolkit for being the best/most on-task and on-time tech in the class.

“I really enjoy knowing how things work, especially something complicated like a car that most people just turn on and don’t know anything about,” Marlena said.

As a junior, she scored an 89 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, making her eligible for most military jobs, and placed in the 99th percentile of all females on the automotive section of the test.

Nonetheless, after Marlena, 17, graduates June 10, she’s not headed for a garage or into the military but to Utah Valley University, where she plans to major in aviation science.

Marlena, who maintained a 3.9 GPA throughout high school and is currently taking all honors and Advanced Placement classes, was accepted into five colleges, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Northern Arizona University, Oregon State University and Westminster College.

For the last two and a half years, she has served on the Civil Air Patrol and, for her senior project, has been taking flying lessons in Sisters. So far she has booked about 23 hours in the air and needs about 12 more to be eligible for her pilot’s license under Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

“My instructor says I’m getting to the point of flying solo,” she said. “My only real issue is landing.”

By the end of her first semester at Utah Valley, Marlena will have her private pilot’s license. And by the time she graduates, she’ll also have her commercial pilot’s license, her multi-engine rating, her instrument flight rating and her flight instructor license.

Marlena said she thinks it would be fun to fly island hopper planes in Hawaii post-graduation to earn the 1,500 to 2,000 hours necessary to be able fly a medical transport plane or air tanker.

Flying has been her dream since she was about 12 years old, and at 13, she started flying with a family friend, Jim Boeckl, who owns an Aeronca Chief aircraft.

Boeckl said Marlena's dad approached him and asked whether he would give her an airplane ride. She came back the following year for another ride, and last year, asked him to be her senior project mentor.

“Her ultimate goal was to get her pilot’s license, so I laid out in detail what she would have to do so that she could see that it was not easy and was multifaceted, and she embraced it, so I started flying with her to give her some time in the air,” Boeckl said. “I’m not an instructor so I couldn’t do that, but I connected her with a really good instructor in Sisters.”

Marlena seemed really timid when they first met, Boeckl said, but has become a very mature, level-headed 17-year-old.

“She’s got the kind of calm temperament and intellect that it takes to be a pilot and deal with what comes up,” he said.

Marlena said she finds flying both relaxing and tiring.

“Relaxing because it takes my mind off everything, but tiring because I have to focus for so long,” she said.

However, she still prefers to be in the pilot’s seat rather than a passenger seat, which she finds boring.

As a pilot, “I have a few more things to entertain me up front,” she said.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Marlena Cromwell, 17, works on changing the oil of a car during her advanced automotive class at North Medford High School on Thursday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch