A former Hawke's Bay woman who joined the Air Force after a visit to her school has completed a round trip to her hometown to encourage youngsters to follow suit.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force "School to Skies" programme teaches children aviation principles before putting them into practice in hands-on activities.
While Napier-born RNZAF medic Claudia Karlsson remained grounded in 2020, spending the year administering Covid-19 swabs while posted to Auckland's Whenuapai base, she returned to Hawke's Bay to conduct the programme at Tamatea Intermediate School on Wednesday.
The former Iona College student said she knew the Air Force was the path for her after a school visit from RNZAF aged 14 and hoped her story would inspire the next generation into choosing a career in the military.
"While I'm a medic and am Covid swabbing in Auckland and saving lives, the best thing about my job is coming to do this, which is what got me interested.
"People look at me in uniform at schools or supermarkets the way I looked up to others when I was a kid. I feel proud to put on the uniform and it's the dream I had as a kid in Hawke's Bay."
Year 7 and 9 school students from Sherenden, Pukehamoamoa, Omahu, Puketapu and Maraenui took part in the programme.
The students had a theory lesson about how planes work, before a practical session involving a grounded 1960s Grumman plane.
Karlsson, 23, said the programme is targeted at lower decile schools in an attempt to inspire pupils towards a career path they may never had considered.
"We show that they can be us. Anybody can do it. Most young people go off to university, but I look at friends who have student loan debts, can't get a job and I'm living the dream."
Karlsson was also joined by former Napier Boys' High School student Dalton Blatch who shared a similar pathway to the Air Force.
"I'd heard about the military after having numerous family members in it, but I'd never seriously considered it as a career until a trip into my school," he said.
"It's allowed me to go on lots of trips around the country and overseas, which makes it really enjoyable."
Programme team leader Debbie Aitken said the programme aims to open the mindset of children to consider pursuing one of the STEM trades - science, technology, engineering and maths.
"Sparking an interest at a young age is important because they can go through to high school and pursue those subjects."
Aitken said younger children from lower decile schools are targeted because the RNZAF aims to increase its ethnicity and diversity and to "plant the seed early".
"Some kids leave Year 13 and want to join the Air Force, but we'll have 250 applications and those who haven't taken the right subjects will have to go back and do NCEA level 2.
"Kids often like to help tinker with the engine on their dad's car, so we teach them tool control and how to use them, before replicating what they've learnt on the plane itself.
"We also add in 20th century skills like leadership, resilience and team work as that's something children don't get a lot of and is vital in the military."
Wednesday's group of children from schools further afield were sponsored by The Launching Pad Charitable Trust, as rural schools are often "left off the list", according to Aitken.