When people are asked to close their eyes and picture a pilot, the images are all similar. Most people picture a handsome young man in a sharp suit in front of a large jet, much like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me If You Can”.
If I asked you to picture aviators across the ages, I can almost guarantee you that a female will not cross your mind; I can guarantee you that images of the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Chuck Yeager will splash across your mind. So now I ask you this. Where are the women? Why do we have to wrack our brains to think of female aviators when women make up almost half of the total workforce?
In general aviation, only 6% of the whole community are women.
All female airline captains worldwide can fit inside a single aircraft. Only 24% of women make up the STEM workforce even though jobs in the field are supposed to increase in the next decade. So why are there so few women in the aviation field? According to the Teaching Women To Fly Research Project, it is because there is a lack of female role models in the industry.
Shaesta Waiz plans on creating the first step to the solution of this problem. This summer she will attempt to be the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.
In doing so, she will stop in different countries and hold outreach events to inspire young girls worldwide to pursue STEM and aviation education. Shaesta was born in a refugee camp in Afghanistan and shortly thereafter moved to California. She grew up thinking that she would become a conventional housewife, marry young and raise a large family. It wasn’t until a flight to Florida for a vacation that Shaesta fell in love with aviation. She attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and became the first female civilian pilot from her country. At Embry-Riddle, she founded the Women’s Ambassador Program, which helped increase the percentage of women in attendance at the university. Now she plans on doing the same thing for women in the STEM and aviation field. She will complete the 24,831 nautical mile trip in a Beechcraft Bonanza A36 and will stop in a total of five continents.
I met Shaesta my freshman year at Embry-Riddle and she has become one of my biggest inspirations throughout my time at Riddle. I have seen her handle every challenge faced in this project with humility and grace and watched her and her team grow together over the course of the year. I have never been more honored to work with anyone and am very excited to get the opportunity to be a part of this global initiative. I encourage everyone to learn more and support this record- breaking project which will change the lives of young girls everywhere.
Elizabeth O’Toole is studying Aeronautical Science at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. She is the President of Active Minds and the Social Media Lead of Dreams Soar.
For more information about the Dreams Soar project click here.