When the DePaul women’s basketball team travels to games, Marisa Warren snags a window seat. She usually observes the type of plane and might peek into the cockpit.
Aviation has been a joy for the freshman point guard since childhood. At 8 years old, she flew by herself from Missouri to Texas to visit an aunt. She took her first international flight in eighth grade when her German class toured Europe. She has crisscrossed the nation to compete on basketball teams.
But when Warren held the controls of a piston-engine Cirrus SR20 plane over the Mississippi River last year, she knew for certain she wanted to be a pilot.
“It was, ‘Wow, this feels natural,’ “ she said. “I loved it. I knew it was really, truly what I wanted to do.”
Warren, last season’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch All-Metro player of the year, feels equally comfortable on the basketball court. As a reserve for the No. 12 Blue Demons (24-3, 14-1 Big East), she averages 2.5 points and 1.2 assists; she had a season-high 16 points and seven assists against Alabama State in December.
Coach Doug Bruno calls Warren essential to the program’s future. He spotted her talent at Incarnate Word Academy in St. Louis, a school that produced Blue Demons sophomore guard Sonya Morris and former DePaul and WNBA guard Felicia Chester-Wootton.
“She has such great court vision,” Bruno said of the 5-foot-8 Warren. “She can really see. She’s one of those point guards who can figure out quickly to go to Player B instead of Player A, even if both of them are open, because she sees Player B has just a little better positioning.
“She’s going to have a chance (in future seasons). We’ll be losing Kelly Campbell, one of the best point guards in the nation, leaving a wide-open opportunity for her to step in and take over.”
As a peace, justice and conflict studies major with an interest in social justice, Warren’s passions are varied and plentiful.
She participated in an Air Force ROTC program at Illinois Institute of Technology through last semester, taking the CTA Red Line 30 minutes to train before class or practice. She recently reassessed her schedule and lifestyle and decided basketball and her studies needed to take priority for now.
“I met a lot of cool people, F-22 pilots and F-16 pilots,” she said. “I loved it and I’m not opposed to coming back to the reserves at some point.”
A high school teammate’s parents, both pilots, invited her to a Women in Aviation event at Saint Louis University. She performed a flight simulation and they helped her arrange a “discovery” flight in which she received instruction from a pilot and handled controls during an hourlong flight above St. Louis.
“I had the controls for 50 minutes,” she said, noting the pilot handled takeoff and landing. “We’re up there and can see everything. It was a bumpy ride, but to know you’re in control of this huge machine, that’s the most exciting part.”
She grew up knowing about Bessie Coleman, America’s first black female pilot. She has not been discouraged by the lack of black women in aviation.
Women account for a little more than 7% of U.S. pilots, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, and black women make up fewer than 1%.
“I’ve never met anyone who looks like me who is a pilot,” Warren said. “I don’t care. This is what I want to do. I know I can do it. I know I can get there.”
While Warren didn’t waver in her commitment to DePaul, Bruno said he looked into ways she could pursue basketball and aviation at the university. But with the time demands of basketball and the school not offering an aeronautics degree, “it just didn’t work.” He even looked into whether it would work at another university.
Warren plans to attend flight school after college and hopes to become an international pilot, perhaps for a commercial airline but also flying humanitarian aid missions.
She was raised to see beyond the horizon.
Alisa Warren is executive director of the Missouri Human Rights Commission, and she often engaged her daughter in topics of injustice. When protests against police brutality sprung up in Ferguson, Mo. — just 10 miles from their home — they drove nearby, watched the news together and talked about injustice.
“We talked about the racial tension in our community and how it ignited other protests in other parts of the world,” Alisa Warren said. “Why people have feelings about each other. Why people hate instead of love. Marisa always made a point to have a diverse group of friends and still does. When you do that, you break down barriers. Fears are gone.”
It was not a shock to her that Marisa would choose a major dedicated to understanding the world better. It also wasn’t a surprise that she wants to become a pilot.
She played on a basketball team for 5-year-olds when she was 3 and enjoyed competing against her brother, 10 years her senior. As a slender middle schooler, Marisa picked the tuba as her instrument of choice. Her favorite song as a child was “Window Seat” by neo-soul singer Erykah Badu.
“Everything she’s chosen has been different and unique,” Alisa Warren said. “She’s her own woman.”
Marisa Warren has lofty goals: excelling at basketball, applying her studies to social justice and eventually taking to the skies.
“I don’t want to limit myself,” she said. “I am so young. Whichever route gets me there is the route.”
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