Emily Sabat joined the military to prove to friends at her all-girls school she could. Eight years later — after graduating from the Air Force Academy and receiving her master’s from Florida State University — Sabat, 26, is an Air Force captain and an AFA chemistry professor. Married for two years to an Academy classmate, she’s preparing to compete in the Mrs. Colorado Pageant, standing on a STEM education platform. She also has been named Mrs. Colorado Springs 2014. Sabat removed her goggles and lab coat to talk about military life, pageantry and what inspires her as a scientist and young professional.
Can you talk about your professional background?
I am by trade an engineer in the Air Force, but my bachelor’s degree from here is in chemistry and then I got my masters in chemistry as well.
How did you first become interested in STEM?
My mom is actually a molecular biologist and works in forensics. … I worked for her some in high school. It was really eye-opening for me as a 15-year-old to process evidence from a violent crime. … For her, helping make the world a better place by getting that criminal put away, and helping the family of the victim, motivated her to go to work. So that realization … was what motivated her to be a scientist and keep going to work every day, and that is what also inspired me to become a scientist.
Is there also a military background in your family?
We have, I think, between three and five direct-generation West Point graduates in my family. My cousin was the first to come here and join the Air Force, instead of going to West Point. He flies F-16s right now and is coming back here in May to be an AOC, one of the majors who are in charge of the cadet squadrons. I thought he was cool and that maybe I could do that. I also went to an all-girls school for 14 years and everybody told me I couldn’t do it, so I said, “OK, watch me.”
I showed up, I took my oath of office and I decided that I was going to do this because everybody said I can’t.
How did you become involved in pageants?
I became interested in Mrs. Colorado after a woman from one of the state pageants came to visit here at USAFA. She visited with the cadets and with some of the younger kids that come here. … The way they responded to her was actually very different than how they responded to the female cadets and to myself. … Seeing how her title could be used to affect little girls and their interests, I thought, “Maybe I could do that, too.” So I looked up pageants and got started — I’m married, so no Miss pageants, it’s only Mrs. pageants for me.
What do you in your spare time?
CrossFit, usually. My husband and I spend a lot of time over at our gym in the Springs, and we love it. There is a great mix of military and civilian, and we have a blast doing that. We’re there pretty much every day.
Is the Academy a good place to develop as a young professional?
I think so. They offer a lot of opportunities for leadership, if you’re interested. … There are also opportunities to do continuing and professional education. Those doors don’t close being here, which is great. For my career field, it is a little bit unusual to get into a leadership position until you’re a little bit older. So being in the classroom as a commander for the cadets, and to be a mentor and role model for them — celebrate their triumphs and pick them up off the ground when they fall down — that is a great opportunity for me to have here.
What are you looking toward in your professional future?
Teaching is great, so I’ll probably be here for at least another year or so. But my husband and I are both applying to test-pilot school next, and how that all works out will kind of dictate what our next move is in the Air Force. We’re really excited for that opportunity. We’re hoping to both do it, but we’ll see where the Air Force takes us. n CSBJ