Elyse Takes Flight

2022 Explore Austin alumna shares how the program has inspired her to become a pilot

When Elyse Ochoa joined the 2022 “Girls Thundercats” Explore Austin team at the end of her sixth grade year, she was, in her words, “extremely shy, insecure, self-conscious and anxious.” However, she quickly bonded with her fellow Explorers and adult Mentors, falling in love with Explore Austin’s monthly Saturday Challenges. She begged her parents to take her to each month’s programming and, in six years, missed only one Saturday Challenge.

For Elyse, Explore Austin offered “an escape” from her home life, where she was told “you can’t do this, can’t do that.” Explore Austin enabled Elyse to become more confident; she “wanted to prove to [her] parents and brothers what [she] was capable of.” During her sophomore year of high school, Elyse confided to her Mentor while kayaking one Saturday that she was struggling academically. That conversation “was a wakeup call” for her. Elyse went on to play varsity sports at her high school and was elected senior class president. Today, she’s in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Houston on a full scholarship to study aerospace engineering.

“Explore Austin taught me to get out into nature when times are hard. [The program] gave me patience and taught me that when you have a plan and an agenda, you get stuff done. It also taught me about the power of reflection – to this day, I still journal because of EA. EA taught me good habits like this at a young age, which is the only reason I was able to get into it.”

Elyse Ochoa, ’22 Explorer Alumna

Elyse plans to become a commercial pilot, an idea she got after meeting a pilot on the plane ride back to Austin from her 2021 Summer Wilderness Trip to Colorado. Elyse had never flown on a plane prior to joining Explore Austin. 

Elyse’s first year of college was really hard. But, she said, “By the second semester, I got into a routine. I got all As except for one B. I knew college would be hard because my Mentors prepared me, especially one who studied engineering in college, too. My Mentors have visited me in Houston several times; they are always checking in on me. One of them even helps me get extra jobs during breaks. Just like in high school, during the Explore Austin program, her Mentors are lifting her up. 

When you invest in Explore Austin’s mission, you are letting local youth like Elyse know they are worthy of opportunity and support, and helping them to build their own legacy of firsts.