Born in a refugee camp in Afghanistan, Shaesta Waiz came to Richmond, CA with her family at a young age when they fled the country to escape the Soviet-Afghan war. After graduating high school, despite initial fears of flying, she took her first commercial flight. As it does for many of us, the thrill of flight motivated her to move across the country and follow her dreams to study, train and become a commercial pilot. As the first ever certified civilian female pilot from Afghanistan, she began to wonder why women were so underrepresented in aviation around the world, and what she could do to change things.
Inspired by her mentor Jerrie Mock, the first woman to fly solo around the world who made her journey in a Cessna 180 (the ‘Spirit of Columbus‘) in 1964, Shaesta completed a flight around the world in October 2017. The trip made her the youngest woman to fly solo around the globe in a single-engine aircraft. Her Beechcraft Bonanza A36, coined ‘Dream Catcher,‘ made strategic stops in countries where STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and opportunities are lacking. Shaesta teamed up with local organizations and inspired over 3,000 young girls and boys, hosting 32 Outreach events in 14 countries to promote STEM education.
“Seeing the reactions of children from around the world as I landed in their country in a small single engine aircraft was the highlight of the global flight. Not only did I want to share with them that dreams do soar, but I also wanted to show them, providing proof that you can come from any set of circumstances and succeed in STEM”, Shaesta shared when she officially completed the global flight on October 4, 2017.
The BizJetJobs.com team caught up with Shaesta’s non-profit organization, Dreams Soar Inc., at this year’s NBAA-BACE conference in Las Vegas, just one week after the flight completed. Dreams Soar is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of STEM and aviation professionals globally, specifically young girls. The organization is sponsored by a host of industry and government partners, and is made up of college student volunteers and seasoned industry professionals. Dreams Soar imagines a more balanced world where children have the opportunity, no matter their circumstances, to study science, technology, engineering and math. That’s what Shaesta imagined after she became a pilot.
We met Jill Meyers, Dreams Soar’s Global Outreach and Logistics Coordinator, at the NBAA conference. She told us about some of the more technical details of the trip. The aircraft was outfitted to carry 300 gallons of fuel to enable Shaesta to fly the longer flight legs such as the Pacific Ocean crossing, a flight that took 14.5 hours. Jill also detailed the numerous weather delays (cold weather storms in Canada, monsoon season in India) and an emotional visit for Shaesta back to Afghanistan, the first time she had been there since she escaped with her family as a child.
“She’s young. She turned 30 on the route,” says Jill. “Shaesta was once asked ‘where’s the pilot?’ when landing in a foreign country; people didn’t believe her at times when she said she was flying the plane, which underscored the importance of her mission. Shaesta has wisdom beyond her years. Her dedication and unshakable desire to inspire young women and girls, and her global perspective, are an inspiration to all of us.”
Did you know there are only about 450 female airline captains worldwide? Only 6% of licensed pilots worldwide are women. We suspect that number could be higher for corporate pilots, as it is in the U.S. During the last two decades, the number of women involved in the aviation industry has steadily increased, but we need to do more to increase these numbers even further. Today women can be found in nearly every aviation occupation. Regardless it’s true: in our industry, the gender gap remains shockingly wide. (See the U.S. numbers here on WAI’s website.)
Some say this is because women are less frequently encouraged to pursue STEM subjects and careers. “I’ve heard that girls are still being told it is not really something they do,” said Marion Wooldridge, deputy chair of the British Women Pilots’ Association, who believes a lack of female pilot role models is another major hurdle. “Once we saw the same with doctors and veterinary surgeons but now more women than men train in those professions.”
Today, girls in America do have the opportunity to do and be anything they want. But in other countries, girls still don’t have the opportunity to vote, drive or get an education. That’s why Dreams Soar continues on, even after Shaesta’s Global Flight for STEM concluded. Their scholarship program is designed to support children around the world who are interested in pursuing STEM and aviation education, yet are limited with resources.
Will you join us in supporting this worthy cause? Contribute to Jill Meyers’s campaign to help make Dreams Soar by clicking here. Learn more about Dreams Soar in this informational 2-minute video: