"Helping Dreams Soar" is a new Sunday segment that will run throughout August and September and is written by Jill Meyers about her experiences working with Dreams Soar, Inc. and the history-making flight of its founder and pilot Shaesta Waiz. Shaesta is piloting a Beechcraft Bonanza A36 solo around the world. Her mission is to inspire girls and young women to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and aviation education and careers.
by Jill Meyers
There is nothing more rewarding than finding your true purpose in life, and I believe it’s even more rewarding to find it later in life!
Four months ago, after more than three decades in the aviation and aerospace business, I quit my job. I didn’t have a plan -- I just knew that I needed to find a way to help the next generation find their passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers, specifically in aviation. I have been a STEM advisor since the 1980s (before they called it STEM!), but only a few hours a month here and there at most. It wasn’t enough.
Two weeks after I left my job at a major defense contractor, I received a text message from Shaesta Waiz, Founder, President and Pilot for Dreams Soar, Inc., a non-profit, all-volunteer organization working to inspire young girls to pursue STEM and aviation education and careers. I had never met Shaesta at that point, but I knew Lyndse Costabile, their Board of Directors Chairwoman. I had contacted Lyndse earlier in the year, offering to help connect Dreams Soar with WAI chapters worldwide.
So -- back to the text message. I had been on a couple of conference calls with Shaesta and the team, providing a few suggestions on their Outreach program. A few days after a very long meeting, I received the text message which led to a phone call with Shaesta, and before I knew it I was their new Women in STEM/Outreach Coordinator. What an incredible four months it has been!
Shaesta is flying around the world solo on a Global Flight for STEM, piloting a Beechcraft Bonanza A36 with five of the six seats ripped out and replaced with extra fuel tanks for the two ocean crossings. She is currently about halfway around the world on a route that stops in 34 places in 18 countries on five continents, and we are holding Outreach events in about 20 of those stops. Shaesta has already completed hugely successful Outreach events in Columbus, Ohio; Montreal, Canada; Madrid, Spain; London, UK: Athens, Greece; Cairo, Egypt; Dubai, UAE; and Singapore, and she has been to seven additional countries for fuel and rest stops.
Why is Shaesta's story inspiring to young girls?
Shaesta was born in a refugee camp in Afghanistan and her family fled to the U.S. when she was very young to escape the Soviet invasion. She does not come from wealth. English was her third language as they spoke Farsi and Pashto at home. She did not excel in school yet at the age of 30 she has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Aeronautics and holds a commercial pilot’s license. She is the first woman from Afghanistan ever to hold a civilian pilot’s license.
As Outreach Coordinator for Dreams Soar, I assist local organizations worldwide in planning outreach events. I also manage the logistics and scheduling of Shaesta's flight and act as her primary point of contact during her journey. We talk every day and have a private messaging system to communicate while she is in flight. This, along with being given the opportunity to spend a week with her in Dubai, has offered me the rare gift to get to know Shaesta very well. It is fair to say that she is one of the most amazing and inspiring people I have ever met. Shaesta’s story is one of finding your passion, working hard, and letting your dreams soar.
In the weeks to come, I will tell you about what it's like to support this organization, to choreograph Shaesta's activities, and to help thousands of young girls around the world let their dreams soar!