Sept. 19, 2017

After years of planning, Shaesta Waiz has nearly achieved her dream of flying solo around the world promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. And in one of her final stops before heading back to Daytona Beach, FL where her journey began in May, she met with more than 100 young girls from the Washington, DC area to tell them they too could achieve their dreams.

“You are your biggest limitation,” she told the students gathered Sept. 18 at the National Air and Space Museum at an event sponsored by the Aero Club Foundation of Washington. “Sometimes your greatest fears in life can be your greatest passion. You won’t know until you go out there and face those fears.”

Waiz founded Dreams Soar in 2014 with a goal of inspiring girls to consider STEM careers, including those in aviation. With the help of partners, sponsors and volunteers around the world, she is nearing the end of her journey, in which she flew her Beechcraft Bonanza A36 more than 22,000 miles, visited 20 countries on five continents and met with nearly 2,500 young people face-to-face.

The first female certified pilot from Afghanistan, Waiz began her life in a refugee camp and moved to the U.S. as a young child. She – along with her five sisters and parents – lived in Richmond, CA where she attended an underfunded school district and believed her future would consist of being a wife and mother. But a commercial flight at the age of 17 changed the course of her life.

“Every nautical mile that we were moving forward, I felt drawn to aviation,” she told the students. “I started to feel something I had never felt before – and that was curiosity. I was curious to know how was this plane flying.”

That curiosity eventually led her to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and earn the distinction of becoming the first female certified pilot from Afghanistan.

STEM education, she said, is not only important for anyone wanting to get into the aviation field, but almost any field of study. “In this day and age, STEM is used across every industry and every field, and I’m trying to encourage young girls to be a part of this wave of the future,” Waiz said. “STEM is all around us, it is in almost every career field that you can imagine.”

The No Plane No Gain advocacy campaign, jointly sponsored by NBAA and GAMA, promotes the value of business aviation in supporting high-skill career paths, like those in STEM-related professions Waiz highlighted during her worldwide journey.

The Journey Around the World

Waiz described for the students her solo trip around the world, noting that all of the seats in the six-seater plane were removed – except of the pilot’s seat – to make room for aluminum fuel tanks. Her flights ranged from about three hours to more than 14 hours, with eight to nine hours being the average flying time.

Flying solo, she couldn’t sleep or get up to stretch her legs, and when she was tired, “you just have to look down and that will wake you up real quickly,” Waiz said.

While there were many moments that stuck out for her along her journey, Waiz said meeting the president of Afghanistan in the presidential palace was a highlight she will never forget.

When asked if she was ever told that she shouldn’t attempt the feat, Waiz said there were many people who tried to shake her confidence. Among the comments she heard – “You should think about taking a man with you to be on the same side.”

“At the end of the day, the airplane doesn’t know if I’m a man or a woman, if I’m a refugee, if I have purple hair, or my religion – that airplane reacts solely on my abilities as a pilot,” she said.

“Whatever your dreams are, you are going to have people who are going to doubt you,” Waiz added. “Take those challenges in a positive way and use that energy to make you stronger, to make you work harder.”

Waiz will be the keynote speaker at Careers in Business Aviation Day, taking place Oct. 12 at NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE). The airplane, a Beechcraft Bonanza A36, will make its first U.S. appearance since returning from the flight at the NBAA-BACE Static Display at Henderson Executive Airport. Learn more about Career Day.

Learn more about Dreams Soar.