Rockin' the runways

Whether its turning wrenches or turning heads, Tessa Roberts-Heard is part mechanic, part pageant Queen

Written by Kristin Baker

This modern pageant woman isnt afraid of getting her hands dirty, and we dont mean just breaking a sweat at the gym.

Tessa Roberts-Heard, who holds the title of Mrs. Kansas American 2002, has an electrical engineering degree from Wichita State University. As if her love of the math-related career field wasnt enough to break stereotypes about women, in December she graduated from Wichita Area Technical College with her Aviation Maintenance Technology Degree, which enabled her to become a FAA Airframe & Powerplant certified aviation mechanic.

I was not pegged as the technical type, Tessa said. People dismissed me. I have had to fight that image to get respect and get a degree and to achieve all I have.

Tessa had a wonderful experience at Wichita Area Technical College, where she said when she walks in May 2014 she will be neither the youngest person nor the oldest person in her graduating class.

The faculty treated everyone with respect, she said. I went to school with a great group of people. The teachers were encouraging to every student. I absolutely loved the place.

Tessa has worked in the aircraft industry for more than 18 years. She said her certificate helped her get the job she has today at Bombardier as the section chief of field service engineering, which means that she leads a team of engineers that define and provide aircraft structural repair definitions.

Its more than just being a mechanic, but I do turn wrenches, Tessa said. Not only does Tessa work in the aviation industry, but she is an instrument-rated private pilot of complex high-performance aircraft which basically means she flies fast planes with retractable gear.

I am crazy over airplanes, and I became crazy about it because of my dad, Tessa said. He is an old aircraft stress engineer and a pilot. I think you want to emulate the people you admire.

Tessa is now working toward her CFI rating so she can serve as a flight instructor. I always have a goal I aspire to get to, she said.

Perhaps that is what piqued her interest in pageants. Tessa is actually a double-crown winner, having also held the title of Mrs. Missouri United States 2006.

Tessa participated in her first Mrs. Kansas pageant in 2001 after the reigning Mrs. Kansas approached her and encouraged her to consider it. I failed miserably, she said.

After watching her pageant video, Tessa realized she needed a cause about which to be passionate. She found that cause after speaking to a group of at-risk high school students, and a young man wrote her a thank you note.

I am crazy over airplanes, and I became crazy about it because of my dad. He is an old aircraft stress engineer and a pilot. I think you want to emulate the people you admire. Tessa Roberts-Heard WATC

It really touched me and got me invigorated. I thought, I have got to do something, Tessa said. He wrote: You know, you made it sound like I could go to college, and I have potential. People tell me I am not college material, but you made me feel like I could do it. Dont be surprised if we work together as engineers someday.

Tessas platform in the 2002 Mrs. Kansas pageant was Dare to Dream, and it encouraged youth with low self esteem to achieve their dreams by not giving up on themselves.

Today, Tessa has spoken to more than 15,000 Kansas youths about dreaming big. I was fortunate that I had parents who were very encouraging, she said. I know a lot of kids dont have that. I wanted them to have someone who could encourage them. Tessa, who has been married to her husband Jon for 20 years, is proud of both her mechanic and pageant identities.

I figured if I work hard enough, I can achieve anything, she said.

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