Upon landing in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Wednesday, a woman whose life began in an Afghan refugee camp became the youngest woman to fly around the world in a single-engine aircraft, announced the aviation arm of the United Nations.
Shaesta Waiz, 30, is on a mission to encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the conclusion of her 138-day journey, she says, is far from the end of her mission.
“Although we are closing one chapter of our STEM education efforts, we are also beginning a new one,” Waiz said. “The broader mission of young girls everywhere having access to quality STEM education will take much longer than just one summer."
By now, Waiz should be familiar with leading the way. She is the first Afghan certified civilian pilot and the first in her family to graduate from college.
Before circumnavigating the globe in her Beechcraft Bonanza A36 for 138 days -- stopping for fuel along the way -- Waiz was born in a refugee camp and traveled to the United States with her family in 1987 to escape the Soviet-Afghan conflict.
She grew up in California and attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she started the Women’s Ambassador Program for mentoring young women in aviation and engineering.
Her effort to fly around the world had a specific purpose.
"To share my story with women around the world, to let them know it is possible to achieve your dreams, regardless of the challenges and traditions you may face," Waiz said.
Waiz took off from Florida in May and hit 22 different countries along the way, including her native Afghanistan where a swarm of people welcomed her arrival, including her father. But for the young aviator, it was always about being a role model.
"The highlight of my return journey [to Afghanistan] were all the young women and children I had the pleasure of interacting and engaging with," said Waiz.
"I witnessed hope growing in their eyes."
Her final flight touched down at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where her dream to dedicate her life to flight first became a reality.
So how did Waiz do it? How did she beat the odds?
"The truth is, anyone can be me. You must believe in yourself and allow your dreams to soar," Waiz said.
You can learn more about Shaesta Waiz's amazing journey on her website: dreamssoar.org.