Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Leo Venega

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, observed every year from September 15 – October 15, Atlas will highlight our Hispanic colleagues who share how their culture has shaped them. Today, we introduce you to Desktop Technician/Mobility Specialist Leo Venega.

How long have you been with the company and what are your primary responsibilities?

I was first hired as a contractor in 2015 and joined the Company full-time in 2016. So, I’m coming up on six years with Atlas.

As a Mobility Administrator for end user services. I am the main point of contact for our team, for users needing anything related to mobility, such as Company cell phones, iPads, and Crew PCDs.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Atlas team and your role specifically?

I have always been a “fixer.” I like solving problems and I like helping people and, in my role, I get to do that all the time. It’s very rewarding for example, when I receive a call from a pilot halfway around the world with a problem and my team and I are able to resolve the issue and get them going again. I like to think that it’s comforting for the crew to know that they can finish the leg that they’re on no matter where they are or what time they need help.

How did you find Atlas?

I used to own a computer store. My business partner and I developed a ruggedized tablet that we planned to market to utility companies and such. At the same time, the FAA (Federal Airlines Administration) had approved the use of tablets for cockpit use, so a friend of mine who was an Atlas Air pilot offered to introduce me to Marco Kleiner, Director, IT, to see if our tablets might work for Atlas. My tablet was an Android-based solution and unfortunately it was not a good fit for what Atlas was looking for, so we weren’t able to work together. About a year later though, Marco reached out to see if I would be interested in configuring iPads for the crew. I thought it was a great opportunity and to get involved with a really interesting organization and one year after that, I was a full-time, Atlas employee. The whole experience was a good reminder that first impressions really do matter. I didn’t get to work for Atlas the first go-round, but here I am today, coming up on my six-year anniversary.

What prompted you to consider aviation as a career? 

I’ve always thought airplanes were cool. I was that kid who had a bedroom ceiling full of airplanes. Growing up, I wanted to be an Air Force Fighter Pilot. Life took a turn, and I wasn’t able to pursue that dream, but I never lost that fascination for the technology and engineering behind airplanes. The dream really did come full circle though, today, I’m on the third floor of the Miami Training Center, working right in the thick of a busy airport and training center and I see airplanes all day. Of course, my favorite moments are when I catch an Atlas airplane taxiing in front of me!

What is the best part about working in aviation?

I think what is so exciting about working in this industry is being a part of what aviation makes possible. We are in the midst of changing humanity by moving people and goods all around the world in an incredibly fast and honestly, cost effective mode. I tell everyone if you want the perfect blend of technology, innovation and world reach, then you should get involved with air cargo.

Please tell us about your Hispanic heritage and how your culture inspires you.

I was born in Cuba, and I was seven years old when we left and moved to Spain. We had every intention of staying there, but shortly after arriving in Spain, there was a socialist upheaval and my father felt that one revolution in a lifetime was enough for him. So, we moved to Miami.

I feel very blessed to have moved to the United States, and particularly to Miami, which affords me the opportunity and freedom to celebrate my Hispanic heritage. I am very proud of my heritage, and I enjoy sharing its incredible history and contributions as well as educating others on what it’s like to be Cuban-American. I am particularly inspired by the Cuban poet, José Martí. He wrote beautiful poetry about Cuba and what it means to be Cuban. His poetry inspired the song Guantanamera, which is the quintessential Cuban song.

Tell us a little bit about your upbringing and the values instilled in you.

My father was my hero. He left his family in Cuba, started a new life in Spain, all the while he toiled for a year by himself while arranging our immigration papers finally bringing all of us over. He was a land surveyor in Spain and did well and as a family, we were very comfortable. When we came to the United State, he was in his 40s and didn’t speak the language. None of his licenses, or diplomas were recognized here, and he had to start all over. Which he did, he started a company and once again, he did well. His dedication to providing for his family and his work ethic were exemplary. That can-do, never give up attitude is now ingrained in me.

My father made a point of telling me and my siblings that he didn’t care what career we pursued, as long as we were committed to being the best at what we chose to do. That has become a cornerstone of who I am – I always want to be the best at what I’m doing.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

I think, as a Hispanic, it’s a good reminder to study up on our culture. It’s an opportunity to learn something you might not have previously known. We have a rich, rich history and Hispanic Heritage Month is a great opportunity to celebrate all who came before us and their contributions.

What would your colleagues be most surprised to learn about you?

I am a huge motorcycle aficionado. It all started when I was 15. My older brothers, who were mechanics, brought cars and motorcycles home to work on them and I started helping them. The more I learned about motorcycles, the more I became enamored with them. Eventually, I opened my own shop and as a way to promote it, I decided to build a bike for my friend who was racing and put the name of the shop on the side of it.

The problem was, he wasn’t very fast. And he crashed a lot. One day it occurred to me that I could probably do better. And so, I went to racing school, I got my license and started racing professionally. I competed in a few series in Florida and Georgia. I ended up winning two state championships. I moved into the national series and did that for a few years, consistently placing in the top ten.

I’ve stopped racing, but I still love motorcycles. I’ve been all over the United States on my Harley Davidson touring motorcycle. I find it really centers me and gives me such an appreciation of the natural beauty of this country.

 

Photo featuring Leo Venega

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, observed every year from September 15 – October 15, Atlas will highlight our Hispanic colleagues who share how their culture has shaped them. Today we introduce you to Claudia Montes, Lead Training Records Administrator.

How long have you been with the Company and what are your primary responsibilities?

I have been working for Atlas for five years and I am responsible for tracking and maintaining records related to employee training and development to ensure we are all in compliance with contributing to the Company’s goals.

Photo featuring Claudia Montes

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Atlas team and your role specifically? 

What I like most about Atlas is the culture. The Company is not only committed to serving its customers but is also committed to responding to employee needs by actively engaging with us. I also greatly appreciate that Atlas Air is a leading aviation company and that its success is a gateway for professional growth.

My favorite part about my job is connecting with my team so I have a good understanding of their needs, opinions and concerns. Additionally, my day-to-day requires a lot of attention to detail and that active dynamic is what keeps me highly motivated to contribute to the Company’s success.

 How did you find Atlas?

I first heard the name Atlas Air in 2014 when I was working for a small charter airline. I was interested in working for a bigger airline and a colleague of mine referred me to Atlas. I joined the Company in 2017 and started as a Training Records Administrator. Atlas has given me the opportunity to grow my career and to experience firsthand how aviation evolves every single day.

What prompted you to consider aviation as a career? 

When I was in college, I was considering several different career paths within Hospitality and Tourism Management, which was my major. One of my assignments was to write an essay about the economic impact of a specific career. After two weeks of research, I learned that the aviation industry had a lot of growth opportunities and I believed that my career and financial goals would be achieved if I followed this path.

What is the best part about working in aviation?

I think the best part about working in aviation is the opportunity to connect with and learn about so many different cultures. It’s also very exciting to be a part of such a dynamic and exciting industry.

Please tell us about your Hispanic heritage and how your culture inspires you?

I was born in El Salvador but raised in Mexico. To me, being able to learn and be a part of two different cultures was an amazing experience. It was incredibly inspiring to see how both cultures keep their traditions and dialect alive. I also appreciate tourists’ interest in learning about the food, festivals and certain sacred rituals that makes each culture unique.

Tell us a little bit about your upbringing and the values instilled in you.

I come from a family of five and moving from one country to another made us stronger. We have tackled many challenges such as language barriers, cultural differences, leaving my grandparents behind and having to restart our lives in a new place. We didn’t see these life- changing events as something negative but instead viewed it as an opportunity to see life in a different perspective, pushing us to adapt. After 14 years of living in the United States, we continue to dedicate quality time to each other and remind each other that the best is yet to come.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you / how are you celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month?

Hispanic Heritage Month means understanding that we are all equal despite having different point of views. It’s a reminder that respect and understanding will be always fundamental for a person’s development.

I am celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by signing my daughters up for several virtual tours of museums in Mexico so they can start learning more about where I’m from.

What would your colleagues be most surprised to learn about you?

My colleagues would find it surprising how quickly I adapt to changes. I am very open-minded and I am always striving to acknowledge that we all benefit and grow from one another.

Atlas Air Scholarship Fund’s inaugural employee dependent scholarship program drew an impressive group of candidates. The 10 recipients of $3,000 scholarships are students from diverse backgrounds, pursuing lofty goals ranging from entertainment and politics to aviation and medicine. The program was administered through Scholarship America, which selected the recipients from the pool of eligible applicants, all dependents of Atlas’ U.S.-based employees. We congratulate the recipients and their proud parents.

Carlota (Carly) is inspired by her father, Atlas Air 737 Check Captain Michael Mortiz. The 20-year-old senior, who is studying aeronautics at Kent State University, loves to travel and looks forward to a career crisscrossing the globe as a professional pilot. 

“My dad has definitely impacted my education and carrier decisions,” Carly said. “He is always excited about going to work even after so many years, which can be rare nowadays. Not only does he love his job, but he loves the company he works for, and ultimately, I think that is something everyone wants and deserves.”  

Michael said it is especially gratifying that Carly has been rewarded for her dedication by his own employer. 

“This scholarship opportunity is of tremendous value to our family,” Michael said. “Carly has always been hard working and driven and has gone above and beyond to achieve her goals in both academics and sports. Because of her work ethic and perseverance, she has seen a lot of doors open. As an Atlas employee, I am very grateful to Atlas for rewarding well-deserving students with this very generous scholarship.” 

*** 

Ryan, a junior studying biological science at Florida International University, is completing flight training to earn his commercial pilot license as he follows a well-defined path toward becoming an astronaut. 

“I strive to make myself better qualified to achieve my ultimate goal of becoming an astronaut,” said 20-year-old Ryan, who is from Miami and enjoys playing piano and tending to his garden. “Atlas is supporting me to reach my goals by making college more financially viable and allowing me to allocate my finances to flight training. Being chosen for the scholarship is an amazing opportunity, and I’m very grateful to my father for always pushing forward and looking out for me and my family.”  

Ryan’s father, First Officer Rolando Vidal, said Ryan has always dedicated himself to his passions. 

 “Ryan has always been committed to completing as many requirements as he could get, so that hopefully one day he could fulfill his goal of becoming an astronaut,” Rolando said. “He is very grateful and focused, and his desire to meet his goal has never diminished.” 

 *** 

Christin is a senior working toward a Bachelor of Science in Dance Management at the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment at Oklahoma City University. After college, she hopes to work with the Walt Disney Company or Universal Studies in Florida – a long way from her hometown in Kenai, Alaska.  

Christin hopes to work in the film and television industry as a director and producer while continuing to remain involved in the live-entertainment world. She said she is grateful to have been chosen for the Atlas Air scholarship, and she intends to pay it forward. After establishing herself in the industry, her goal is to open a non-profit dance center aimed at the under-served populations of her community, wherever that may be.  

Christin’s father, First Officer Richard D. Baker, said he and his wife Carla are proud of the dedication their daughter has shown to her chosen field. 

Christin has been laser focused on her future in the dance/entertainment industry since early in her high school experience,” he said. “She is now the hardest working 21-year-old we know while still being a very caring person. We love her dearly.” 

*** 

Arkansas Tech University senior William is studying business management and pre-law in preparation for a law career that he hopes will lead to a future in politics.  

“Ten years from now, after what will hopefully be a successful stint in corporate law, I wish to become politically involved in the great state of Texas as a politician or attorney general,” said William, 22, who is from Fort Worth and plays for the university’s baseball team.  

He also is a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Council, the National College Athlete Honor Society and Beta Gamma Sigma international honor society for collegiate schools of business. 

“I am so very proud of Will for all that he has accomplished so far,” said his father, Line Maintenance Manager Jay Horton. “He’s very deserving of the Atlas scholarship.”  

*** 

Wesley, a freshman studying marketing at the University of Cincinnati, is pursuing a career in real estate. 

“In 10 years, I hope to be selling homes in Cincinnati and growing my brand to reach new states,” said Wesley, who is from Harrison, Ohio, and enjoys playing guitar, staying fit and working on his personal development.  

“Being selected (for this scholarship) confirmed to me that the hard work I’ve been putting into myself has been paying off. The journaling and writing that I knew I needed to be doing – but didn’t always want to do – has advanced my mind to something that is very capable. Winning the scholarship will only increase my momentum.”

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, observed every year from September 15 – October 15, InsideAtlas will highlight our Hispanic colleagues who share how their culture has shaped them. Today, we introduce you to 747 Captain and Check Airman Teresa Dodson.

How long have you been with the company, and what are your primary responsibilities?  

I started with Polar in 2002 and later transitioned to Atlas.

As a Check Airman, I supervise flying for new hires and new captains and introduce them to the Atlas operating line.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Atlas team and your role specifically?  

My favorite part of my job is flying with new hires. I get to experience the excitement they have when they first come to the company and are learning how our operation works. It reminds me of my first few years at the company.

How did you find Atlas?c

I like to say that Atlas found me, since I was at Polar. I flew for many years with a few different Alaskan airlines and a few of my former coworkers joined Polar and suggested I look into it. I did and have been part of the Atlas Air Worldwide family ever since.

What do you like best about working here? 

I love the people. We are such a diverse group from a variety of backgrounds, both personally and professionally. I love coming to work and meeting new people. My colleagues are family to me.

What prompted you to consider aviation as a career?  

My father was a pilot in Spain, but he was very traditional, and he didn’t think women should be pilots. In fact, there is a recording of my dad and I having a conversation when I was three years old. He asked me what I want to be when I grew up and I answer, “a pilot.” He responds and says “well, you are a girl, you can be a flight attendant.” Even at three, I asserted that I wanted to be a pilot.

My parents wanted me to be a lawyer and sent me to law school in Madrid (in Spain, law school begins immediately following high school and is a five-year program) but during my third year of school, I decided to give my dream a chance and moved to Alaska to be a pilot, since that’s where the most aviation opportunities were at the time.

What is the best part about working in aviation? 

I like that aviation is a dynamic industry – everything is constantly changing, like new airplanes and new technology. There is always more to learn, which keeps me interested.

Please tell us about your Hispanic heritage and how your culture inspires you. 

I grew up surrounded by hard working, loyal people my family, friends and neighbors. I think those qualities are what contributed to my very strong work ethic and dedication to my career, my colleagues and my community.

I was the fourth woman in Spain to get a commercial pilot’s license. My generation was born under a military dictatorship. We were raised with strict traditional and religious values in a society with very limited options for women outside the role of mother, housewife or caregiver. The women in my generation pushed down walls to become unstoppable and we changed our society. I had to leave my country to fulfill my dream to its full potential: to be a captain of a B-747. I’m very grateful that as an American, I was able to reach my dream. Now, I help mentor women in both Spain and the U.S. to achieve their own dreams of becoming pilots.

Tell us a little bit about your upbringing and the values instilled in you. 

Family was always the most important part of my life, along with our traditions. I speak to my sister every single day. We love our food, wine and music and just being together.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you / How are you Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month this Year? 

While Hispanic people are joined by a common language, we have so many different cultural backgrounds. What stands out most to me about Hispanic people in America is that we are a group of hard-working people who came to the United States to have American dream. During Hispanic Heritage month, we have the opportunity to celebrate what we have accomplished, what we have in common, and our dreams for the future.

What would your colleagues be most surprised to learn about you?

When I was 18 years old, I got a job as a flight attendant with Iberia Airlines to earn money to pursue my dream of being a pilot. During this time (in 1989) Pope John Paul II was touring the holy sanctuaries of Santiago and Covadonga on an official visit to Spain. Iberia Airlines was owned by the Spanish government and the airplane and crew were offered for his Holiness’s tour while on Spanish soil. I was selected to be his flight attendant during the three day trip. It was a great honor to be selected and a memory I will cherish forever.

In March 2022, Atlas Captain Aileen Watkins watched from the ground as her 14-year-old daughter, Katalin, completed her first solo flight in a Schweizer SGS2-33 glider at Treasure Coast Soaring Club in Vero Beach, Florida.

Captain Aileen Watkins and her family on Katalin’s (second from right) First Solo day.

“It was exhilarating for me to see Katalin accomplish her first solo flight,” said Aileen. “Just because aviation was my passion, doesn’t mean it has to be my children’s as well, but Katalin has found her path on her own and wants to fly.”

While Aileen was careful not to “push” her own children into aviation, she leads by example, and is committed to supporting the aviation dreams of as many young girls as possible through her volunteer service with a number of organizations. The 99sGirlVentureThe International Society of Women Airline Pilots, and Women In Aviation International are all focused on encouraging females to pursue careers in aviation.

“There are so many people who are really enthusiastic about aviation,” said Aileen. “They want to do this so badly and they just need one person to tell them they can do it and to show them how to get started.”

Traditional cutting of the shirttail for Katalin’s First Solo.

Aileen leverages her successful career in aviation to shine a spotlight on the opportunity for others, attending many events to network with, and encourage, the next generation of aviators. In 2018, she was the keynote speaker at a Girls in Aviation event hosted by the Houston Chapter of Women in Aviation, where she talked about her path to become a 747 Captain. She has also been a panelist on aviation careers and balancing career and family at multiple Women in Aviation Conferences.

Aileen’s own journey into aviation began when her father took her to JFK Airport in 1971 and she saw her first 747 up close.

Katalin, First Solo on her 14th Birthday, Treasure Coast Soaring Club, Vero Beach, FL, March 2022

“At that time, there were no women flying for airlines in the U.S.,” said Aileen. “I knew I wanted to pursue aviation, but most people immediately thought of men when they thought of airline pilots. There were so few women in the industry, I really didn’t have female role models to look to for inspiration.”

That changed in the late 1980’s when Aileen was watching a documentary, “Reaching for the Skies,” which featured Captain Lynn Rippelmeyer, the first woman to fly the Boeing 747.

“Seeing a woman in a pilot’s uniform confirmed my dreams were possible. I knew I could do it too,” said Aileen.

Captain Watkins speaking at Girls in Aviation Day, sponsored by the Houston Chapter of Women In Aviation International.

Today, Aileen is an inspiration to so many young women who are looking to launch their own careers in aviation. As a member of The 99’s Professional Pilot Leadership Initiative, Aileen participates in a formal mentoring program for women who want to progress to become professional pilots. The program aims to accelerate the advancement of women in all pilot professions, facilitate dynamic support, and enhance women’s leadership roles in the aviation community.

“When we created the program, we saw a need for a formal means of mentoring the professional pilot. It’s not enough to lead them to the positions. We want to perpetuate their trajectory by teaching them to lead in their career path and in turn mentor those who will follow.” said Aileen. “We have mentored many women who are now flying for major airlines as well as guiding professionals in other aviation disciplines.”

Another program Aileen is passionate about is GirlVenture. The program, sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association at AirVenture Oshkosh, is a four-day camp for young women, grades 9-12, introducing them to the world of aviation and aerospace.

Each year, the Experimental Aircraft Association, AirVenture (in Oshkosh, WI) sponsors GirlVenture – an aviation experience for young women grades 9-12. This is one of the organizations Capt. Watkins is involved in.

“Mentors from many walks of aviation life immerse the girls in the many career opportunities available to them, while providing the catalyst to make new friends and share ideas in an inclusive environment,” said Aileen. “Next year (2023) will be GirlVenture’s 20th year, and is one of my favorite programs to participate in. I first went in 2012, and this year, Katalin was accepted into the program!”

Aileen’s younger daughter, eleven-year-old Alianne, is interested in engineering and aviation maintenance herself, a pursuit Aileen is thrilled to support.

She and her family have recently joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) to further get involved in promoting aviation in their community. Through leadership, mentoring, and educational activities, Aileen and her husband, Bob, will be working with CAP cadets to enhance learning objectives in high performance team-building in community service, technology, and search-and-rescue training.

Capt. Watkin’s 11 year-old daughter, Alianne, assisting with their family J3 Cub Annual Inspection, Palm City, FL.

“Mentoring is all about paying it forward,” Aileen says. “I have a passion for flying and aviation and want to share it with others to help them reach their goals. If you love flying and it moves you, there is no limit to what you can achieve.”