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Photo available. Contact or 785-532-2535.
News release prepared by: Natalie Blair, 785-826-2642,

Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010


SALINA -- Yvonne Varnado grew up working on cars with her dad, and thought she would continue doing similar work for the rest of her life.

"But my dad told me to do something else. He suggested working on planes," she said.

So Varnado began her search for an aviation maintenance program.

"Tuskegee University said that they couldn't get me in their program, but I could enroll in their sister school: Kansas State University at Salina," she said.

That's when Varnado left her hometown of Memphis, Tenn., where she had graduated from Memphis Catholic High School, for a campus she had never seen, in a state where she had never been, to begin a career in a field that she had no background in.

But she thought if K-State Salina had a partnership with Tuskegee, then the school had to have a good program.

Varnado, who originally planned to transfer to Tuskegee when she got the chance, is glad she stayed at K-State. "I've made good friends here," she said.

She also discovered that she enjoys something more than she enjoyed engines.

"I like putting sheet metal together, riveting, painting, welding," she said. "Working on engines is fun, but I think working with sheet metal is more fun. It's like working on a piece of art."

Evan Beckman, K-State Salina instructor of aviation maintenance and her adviser, enjoys having her in class. "Yvonne is really friendly, and she's just a happy person," he said.

Varnado is one of only three female students in K-State Salina's aviation maintenance program, so she is a familiar face on campus. She said she isn’t intimidated being one of the few women in the program.

When she isn't in the maintenance hanger working on class projects -- like completely rebuilding a turbine engine -- Varnado has been a Student Governing Association senator and a member of the Multicultural Committee, the Sustainability Committee and the Cat Cannon Club, the organization that builds and maintains devices to shoot T-shirts into the crowd at home football and basketball games at K-State in Manhattan. She also plays shortstop for the K-State Salina club softball team and is a member of a citywide bowling league.

She lives in a residence hall with her pet milk snake, Dig. After Varnado graduates in May 2012, she and Dig plan to move back to Memphis.

“I plan to get my airframe and powerplant certificate, and to take some more classes to get a degree in business. That way I can start my own shop. My parents want to open a restaurant, so I would be able to help them out, too," she said.