Alumnae: Alumnae Profiles

Alumnae Profiles: La'Shanda Holmes, C'2007

Spelman alumna Lieutenant La’Shanda Holmes, the U.S.  Coast Guard’s first African-American female helicopter pilot, has been appointed to the 2015-2016 class of White House Fellows by the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.

After growing up in the foster care system, Holmes put herself through college at Spelman, earned a degree in psychology, became a pilot and amassed over 1,500 flight hours conducting search and rescue, counter drug, and law enforcement missions. She was previously stationed at Air Station Atlantic City as an aircraft commander and managed over 6,800 flight hours for the Coast Guard’s largest MH-65 helicopter unit.  She deployed five times to Washington, DC, as a rotary wing air intercept pilot where she supervised an 18-member team and sustained a two strip alert aircraft to defend the President and the Nation’s capital in support of Operation Noble Eagle. 

Her honors include the 2014 Blacks in Government award, selection as one of Grio’s Top 100 History Makers, and a nomination for an NAACP award for her work on The Smithsonian’s “Black Wings” documentary.  She is a Bonner Scholar, graduated Spelman College with a degree in psychology, and is a graduate student at Oklahoma University.  She sits on the board of directors of two non-profits that enrich youth through aviation: Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum and Girls Fly!

Learn more about this year's White House Fellows.

A Legacy in the Making: Holmes Excels Despite the Odds

*This article written by aka Tito on Feb. 8, 2011 was republished from

Perseverance, dedication, grit, a desire to excel – these are all traits desired in a student aviator. Training in the aviation program for the maritime services is intentionally difficult to stress and push the students beyond their comfort zones so they can meet the hardships their service will entail. However, when that prospective pilot is slated to become a barrier breaker as well, those traits are not just desired, but necessary.

The idea that Holmes had those traits was never in doubt. The humble, soft-spoken young woman had faced trials growing up in North Carolina that tested and tempered her desire to excel. Years ago, when she walked across the stage to receive her wings as the first African-American female helicopter pilot in the U.S. Coast Guard, it was simply the next chapter of a proud story.
“I knew she would be successful. She had already overcome far greater challenges than flight school. I had the opportunity to do a familiarization flight with her, and where most folks might get a little frustrated, she drank it all in. She was eager to improve and I had no doubts she would do well,” Commander Mark Murray said.

Given her childhood, that might not normally be a safe assumption, but for Holmes, the hurdles she faced growing up drove her to try all that much harder.

“I was used to people telling me what I couldn’t do. We moved around a lot, and I think it fueled my ambition to live better and work harder. It just gave me more motivation to succeed,” she said.

Her trials started young. Holmes was just two when her mother committed suicide. She was adopted a short time later, but after her adoptive mother remarried, she states that she and her younger brother were placed in foster care due to abuse and were separated. She went through several homes until she landed with Linda and Edward Brown at 17. She still calls them her parents and they provided some necessary stability for her life.

Her hard work paid off even then graduating magna cum laude from high school and earning admission to Spelman. Two years into her education here, she was assisting with a community service booth during a career day. Directly across from her was a Coast Guard recruiting booth. She wandered over after the event to speak with him conversation with Senior Chief Dexter Lindsey who inspired her to think about serving.

She applied for and was accepted into the College Student Pre-commissioning Initiative which financially enabled her to finish school. Prior to attending Officer Candidate School, she served on a Coast Guard cutter as an officer candidate and while near the bridge stuck up a conversation with the operations officer who advised her to consider aviation. It was then that she learned the Coast Guard had only one other Black, female pilot, Lt. Jeanine Menze.

“It sounded challenging, but something I was up for,” Holmes said. Reflecting upon her first flight Holmes added, “We did hovering and flying low over the water. I was like a little kid. It was like nothing I had ever done or seen before. It was awesome.” “Everyone in the aviation community was so close. There was a real sense of camaraderie of which I wanted to be a part.”

When it comes to maximizing the power of a liberal arts education, Holmes is far from finished. A recent article on reports that Holmes recently started "working on a master’s degree, would like to write a book, a screenplay, and maybe even become a pharmacist."

“We have to be willing to do the work. We must re-hone our focus on the things that matter, rather than be captive from the past. Everything prepares us for something greater,” she said in the article.

The video on this page was featured on the U.S. Mission to the Netherlands YouTube channel.