EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Shaesta Waiz has defied all odds time and time again, and she is hoping her recent solo flight around the world will continue to inspire the next generation of aviation enthusiasts.
On Oct. 4, 2017, the 30-year-old Waiz, an Afghan refugee who immigrated to America in 1987, became the youngest woman to fly solo in a single-engine aircraft around the world.
Speaking to a group of 150 students from local high schools and colleges Monday at the William J. Hughes Technical Center for Aviation STEM Day, Waiz recounted the first leg of that flight and the obstacles she faced along the way.
Waiz told the students the whole purpose of her flight was “to inspire young kids that if they have a dream, they can accomplish it” through perseverance.
Melissa Duff, a junior from Egg Harbor Township High School, said that as a woman, she was inspired hearing Waiz’s story. Duff said she is interested in a career involving computer programming.
“It’s a new, up-and-coming field and there’s a lot of opportunity in that,” said Duff, 16.
The Aviation STEM Day lets students learn firsthand the career opportunities in the aviation field related to science, technology, engineering and math. This is the third year the tech center has hosted the event.
“Aviation STEM differs from STEM because we’re using aviation principles to spark an interest in math and science,” Federal Aviation Administration Aviation STEM Program Manager Lyndsay Digneo said.
Digneo said many students may not know the career opportunities in aviation outside of being a pilot. She said Monday’s event taught them about the chemists, mathematicians, engineers, meteorologists and coders who work behind the scenes.
“It’s not just being a pilot. When you think about FAA careers, there’s a lot more opportunities for them,” Digneo said.
Absegami High School sophomore Nathan Cushlanis, 15, of Galloway Township, said he always wanted to be a pilot, but Monday’s event might change that.
“I think it’s pretty cool because I might find something here I want to do I didn’t even know I was interested in,” Cushlanis said.
FAA Aviation Research Manager Eric Neiderman said the tech center in Atlantic County is a unique facility and explained the importance of the research done there, which involves aviation safety, human safety, software, structures, propulsion and airports.
“The reason you’re safer in an airplane than you are in your house is because of this research,” Neiderman said.
He said the aviation industry continues to expand and develop, opening up new career opportunities, especially in Atlantic County. The tech center employs about 3,000 people.
The student event is a prelude to Tech Center Tuesday, a day to showcase advancements in aviation technology ahead of the annual Air Traffic Control Association symposium in Atlantic City
In addition to the student-related activities Monday, the center also hosted a workshop for about 20 teachers on in-tegrating aviation STEM into their curriculum.