Captain. Trailblazer. Afghan Refugee.
After 145 days, 22 countries, and five continents, on October 4, 2017, Shaesta Waiz became the youngest woman ever to circumnavigate the world alone, in a single-engine aircraft (National Geographic). Along the way, she conducted outreach events inspiring more than 3,000 young girls and boys, including in her native Afghanistan.
Born in a refugee camp, Shaesta and her family traveled from Afghanistan to America in 1987 to escape the Afghan-Soviet war. One of six sisters, Shaesta and her family grew up in Richmond, California, where schools couldn’t retain educators and a stream of substitute teachers taught kids with shared textbooks. Dropping out was the norm and the path forward appeared limited. But, when Shaesta was a teenager, her parents took her and her sisters on a trip and once the plane took off, Shaesta was hooked on the magic of flight and the distance it put between her and earthly cares.
Shaesta would go on to become the first person in her family to earn college degrees—earning both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the first Afghan woman ever to receive her commercial pilot’s license. To pay it forward, Shaesta founded the Women’s Ambassador Program at Embry-Riddle to mentor and support other young women pursuing aviation and engineering degrees. The solo circumnavigation started as a dream, then became the launchpad for her nonprofit organization, Dreams Soar, designed to promote STEM and aviation education for underprivileged children worldwide. Since completing the global flight, Dreams Soar has partnered with over 30 industry partners and schools and hosted an additional 31 outreach events in nine countries, reaching more than 12,000 kids.
Sharing the story of her historic around-the-world solo flight, Shaesta explores these topics in her presentations.
STEM education as a path to the future
Honoring your roots
Understanding your “why” and translating passion into purpose
Building your team
Paying it forward through mentorship
Photos: courtesy Shaesta Waiz