In the air and on her own: The sky's the limit for this ambitious teen
Keyahna Kurilla is on her school tennis team, pilots a plane part of the way from a Canadian air base to her family's cabin in that country, and revels in her role as a local dairy ambassador.
About the only thing she can't do is sit still.
The 17-year-old will be a Brainerd High School senior when school starts and the only child of Joyce Griffiths and Mike Kurilla plans to keep up her hectic schedule of overachieving.
"Most of the people that I know in the aviation community are a lot older than me or are college students. They are not a lot of people my age," she said. "I want to show people who don't necessarily believe in me that I can do these things."
The teen is part of the Minnesota Post Secondary Enrollment Option program at Central Lakes College that allows high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to take courses and receive both high school and transferable college credit.
"I'm PSEO at CLC right now, so I'm working on my AA degree (Associate of Arts) at the same time. And I do have a few different jobs. I work at StoneHouse Coffee & Roastery in Nisswa, so I'm a barista for them, and when gymnastics is in season, I'm their photographer," Kurilla said.
"My parents don't pressure me really to do any of this. They find it as surprising, as most people do, the amount of stuff I do. ... It's all kind of myself, and I definitely don't do it just to put it on a college application. I do it because I'm truly passionate about the things I do."
Some PSEO students like Kurilla, who used to be the high school yearbook editor-in-chief, graduate with their associate degree at the same time they receive their high school diploma. Kurilla said she plans to remain involved in aviation after graduation.
"I've been flying with an instructor for a while now, and when he feels I'm ready and I've built up enough hours and he trusts me, he steps out of the plane, and I go do a take-off and landing on my own," Kurilla said.
Kurilla is a student pilot working towards her private pilot rating. She said she became interested in aviation because of her grandfather, who grew up flying and had planes at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
"There's not a lot of female pilots in general ... and the fact that I'm a girl kind of throws people off. ... Or they don't really think I actually do fly. It definitely kind of fuels me to work harder and prove them wrong," she said. "My plan for after high school—I'm going to be graduating with my AA degree from CLC—is I'm looking to go to college for aviation. And I would probably double major, and I'd do a public relations or an agriculture degree at the same time."
Kurilla is a member of several aviation organizations and enjoys traveling in addition to anything related to the National FFA Organization, such as being a dairy ambassador.
"My grandparents have a cabin up in Canada, and the only way you can get there is by a floatplane, so you can land on water. I used to fly up there—we go every summer—when my grandpa had his floatplane, so I grew up flying there in that one," she said. "I know I want to be in the aviation industry in some way. It used to kind of be more airlines, but now I'm going towards more bush flying in kind of more remote places like Alaska and Canada. ... I'm planning on doing a lot of month-long trips abroad in smaller countries, like backpacking."
Kurilla became involved with the agriculture-based FFA her sophomore year even though she did not grow up on a farm, and she recently joined the 4-H Club, so she could show dairy cows with her friends and junior dairy princesses Jenna and Arica Caughey.
"I'm still involved with that. I'm currently our chapter president and then I'm a Region II reporter for Minnesota ... and my friends who got me involved with it own dairy cows, and they run their own dairy business south of town, so that's my connection with the dairy industry," she said.
Dairy ambassadors will make many appearances in the community over the next year promoting the dairy industry, especially during June Dairy Month.
"We kind of do like different community engagement things at county fairs and the state fair, just kind of representing the dairy industry from a youth perspective and trying to get it promoted better in our community," said Kurilla, whose favorite dairy product is ice cream. "It can definitely be a struggle with a lot of the different things I do because I'm involved in a lot of things and I have a lot of roles in each of them ... and I know a lot of kids my age don't do a lot of this stuff ... but I'm someone who definitely likes to keep busy."