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OSU-Tulsa professor finds family connection to aviation history

Dr. Mallory Casebolt, OSU-Tulsa assistant professor of aviation, holds a photograph of her great-grandmother who built airplanes at Douglas Aircraft Co. in Tulsa during World War II.

It was only recently that Oklahoma State University-Tulsa assistant professor of aviation Dr. Mallory Casebolt uncovered a deep connection to aerospace right in her own family tree.

The roots date back to her great-grandmother, who was one of 310,000 so-called ‘Rosie the Riveters’ during World War II who built planes, bombs and tanks after men left those jobs to fight overseas.

Casebolt’s great-grandmother Ann Lee assembled wing components of the B-24 Liberator bomber at Tulsa’s Douglas Aircraft Co. in 1943.

“She was a single mom who worked the graveyard shift at Douglas while raising my grandmother. She was a real go-getter,” Casebolt says. “I remember her but I never knew about what she did in World War II until after she died at 104.”

For Casebolt, the discovery of her great-grandmother’s role in aviation history was not only surprising, but inspiring given her own lifelong interest in aerospace.

As a child, she remembers her own fascination with the specific model of airplane her family flew on vacation during her first commercial flight to Disney World in Florida.

“I’ve always been in love with airplanes,” Casebolt said. “One of the reasons I absolutely love aviation is because it connects the world.”

She had planned to join the Air Force after high school. But after meeting her husband two weeks after high school graduation, she decided to pursue a degree in air traffic control. After completing that degree, Casebolt decided to continue her education at OSU-Tulsa.

It was then she discovered a love of teaching. With the encouragement of OSU professor Dr. Timm Bliss, Casebolt decided to pursue higher education. She joined OSU-Tulsa as a visiting professor in aviation in the 2014 spring semester.

As a female in a male-dominated industry, Casebolt is particularly passionate about helping more women pursue careers in aviation. In 2018, only 7 percent of those who work in the aerospace industry were women.

In her position as a board member for the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, she helped organize the first annual 'Women in Aviation’ event to celebrate the women who shaped Tulsa's aerospace industry and introduce young girls to aerospace careers.

Casebolt also is enthusiastic about Tulsa’s role in aviation history, which began with the 1940 construction of the Douglas Aircraft Co. bomber plant and the production of B-24 Liberator bombers such as those Casebolt’s great-grandmother worked on during World War II.

“I was so surprised to find out my great-grandmother played such an important part in aviation history. Her pay was half of what the male employees had made doing the same thing. And when the war was over, she lost her job to them,” Casebolt said. “This only makes me more passionate about ensuring women have more opportunities in this industry.”

Tulsa’s aerospace industry continues to thrive, generating $11.7 billion in economic activity for Tulsa each year, according to the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission. Recent announcements from Spirit Aerosystems and American Airlines promise more employment opportunities for those trained to take advantage of them.

Improving job prospects makes now an ideal time in Tulsa to pursue a career in aerospace and aviation, Casebolt said.

OSU-Tulsa offers hybrid courses designed to be convenient and affordable as well as to produce qualified graduates for aviation jobs.

“I feel grateful to my great-grandmother and all the other women like her who served our country during that time. It was so heartening to learn she was actually a pioneer for women in aviation,” Casebolt said. “I am also proud of Tulsa, about the role it played in World War II and about the role it plays now as an economic engine for the city and the state.”

Dr. Mallory Casebolt, OSU-Tulsa assistant professor of aviation
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