#StrongWomenWednesday: Shaesta Waiz

Here’s the story of another strong, trailblazing woman! Shaesta Waiz is the first certified civilian female pilot from Afghanistan and the first person in her family to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from a university. She’s the youngest woman in history to fly solo around the world in a single-engine plane. Shaesta also founded the non-profit organization Dreams Soar with the mission “to inspire girls and young women worldwide to dream big, and achieve more – especially in the fields of aviation and STEM.” With courage and confidence she achieved her goals, and with compassion for others, Shaesta uses her success to inspire and motivate others to soar.

Shaesta Waiz was born in a refugee camp. Generations of her family were displaced from their homes in Afghanistan beginning in 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which started the Soviet-Afghan War. In 1987, Shaesta and her immediate family were able to escape from Afghanistan to the United States, where life was free of war and turmoil, but still not to the standards Shaesta dreamed of. She grew up with her parents and her five sisters in Richmond, California, attending school in an underprivileged school district full of substitute teachers and worn-out shared textbooks. She watched friend after friend drop out of school in their unsupported environment.

Dissatisfied with school, Shaesta began to believe that her future consisted of marrying at a young age and staying at home to raise a big family. Then she discovered aviation. Shaesta felt inspired by a commercial flight she took from California to Florida when she was 17 years old. She was afraid of planes at the time, and had been since she was a child, but she faced that fear and found an interest in planes and flight. She gained confidence despite the fact that no one in her family or community took her interest in aviation seriously, and she enrolled in classes herself as a teen.

Shaesta’s biggest obstacle in the beginning of her aviation career was funding. She struggled to afford the expensive schooling she needed to pursue her dream of becoming a certified civilian pilot – the type who fly commercial airplanes for the public. Her training was often delayed as she scrambled to apply for and receive scholarships and donations to pay her tuition at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Shaesta also didn’t have many role models or mentors to look up to when she faced these challenges. Today, only 6% of the world’s pilots are women. Instead of allowing this fact to hold her back, Shaesta founded the Women’s Ambassador Program at Embry-Riddle, which is a mentorship program to support young women pursuing an education in aviation or engineering.

To add to all of her accomplishments, Shaesta set off on a historic global solo flight on May 13, 2017 and she returned in October of that year. Her mission was to partner with strong female role models in each of her 30 stops around the world to share the importance of STEM education and to inspire girls and young women to “allow their dreams to soar.” At 30 years old, she became the youngest woman to fly around the world alone in a single-engine plane.

To learn more about Shaesta and Dreams Soar, check out the organization’s website here.