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In Her Own Words: Olga Zhuchenko

If someone would’ve told me when I was younger that I would become a professional pilot and even train the next generation of aviators, I would never have believed them. Although it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, that’s exactly what I’m doing – and I’m loving every moment of it. 

I was born in Ukraine and immigrated with my family to the United States when I was four years old. When I was growing up, I never really considered a career as a pilot. My interest in aviation didn’t start until I was in high school when I took an introductory flight just for fun, not realizing where it would take me. 

As I became more familiar with this community, I was intrigued by the lifestyle of those who work in aviation. I was initially really attracted to the idea of being able to travel the world and have opportunities to pick up and move around the country, or even abroad, rather than having to settle down in one location. 

When I decided that aviation was the right decision for me, I considered aviation programs where I could earn my degree. I ended up choosing California Aeronautical University (CAU) in Bakersfield, California 

There were several things that attracted me to this school. CAU offered a way for me to achieve my goals that no other university could. Their flight training degree program offered me a way to get my education and ratings in the timeliness manner possible, while also being affordable enough. 

As a student at CAU, I was on track to graduate in about three years and be well-prepared to become a professional pilot. The road to reaching my goals wasn’t easy, though. There were many challenges I faced along the way, and not only in my flight training. 

In this career field, the most challenging aspect was being a woman in a male-dominated field. I was wary of being judged more harshly than my male counterparts would be judged. But nevertheless, I persisted – in large part because of my strong support system.  

My parents have been my biggest supporters. It’s a little ironic because, at first, they were skeptical about my career choice. Still, they supported my choice to pursue this career and are now very proud of where I’ve ended up. 

In 2021, I graduated from California Aeronautical University with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics. I also earned six certificates and ratings, including private, instrument, commercial, CFI, CFII, and CMEL. My journey with CAU didn’t end after graduation, however. 

Though my initial plan was to become an airline pilot, I found a new passion. While attending CAU, I had the opportunity to work as a certified flight instructor at the University. To my surprise, I fell in love with teaching the next generation of pilots.  

I found that I loved helping students achieve their aviation goals and be the best they can be. I felt like I was making a positive impact on someone else’s life. Seeing my students go on their first solo flight shows me that I played a role in their aviation careers taking off (literally).  

Over the years, I’ve worked my way up and now serve as the Assistant Director of Flight Instruction at California Aeronautical University. I can even see myself potentially taking the DPE route in the future. 

Flying is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, yet it has been the most rewarding experience. I’ve never worked so hard for something in my life and my knowledge and skills are constantly being tested. But I continue learning and working on it to this day and I have a career that I greatly enjoy.  

For anyone considering a career in aviation and for current pilot students, I offer some advice that I’ve learned along the way: 

  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Just focus on your own training and where you are. 
  • Continue to challenge yourself. Strive for more. 
  • The biggest misconception about aviation is that you must be great at math and science to succeed. It’s more about your work ethic and motivation to learn in general – if you want it badly enough and are willing to put in the work, you can get it.  
  • Never stop learning.  

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