Helping Dreams Soar: Every cloud has a silver lining!

by Jill Meyers

I have been managing projects and programs of all shapes and sizes for 25 years. I worked hard and studied hard to qualify for and obtain my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification 10 years ago, and have stayed current all these years by continuing my professional education and training in Project Management. I have an Aerospace Engineering degree from a top university with a specialty in Astronautical Engineering and do consider myself fairly intelligent most of the time. But nothing prepared me for the very challenging task of . . . Managing Shaesta’s Schedule. I learned an important lesson early on in my career, which has done me well during my support to Dreams Soar, which is: Always Look for the Silver Lining. It allows you to overcome challenges with more ease and less stress! Let me share some examples.

In addition to being the Outreach Coordinator for Dreams Soar, I also manage Shaesta’s schedule and handle the logistics for her journey. Our flight planning partner, HADID International Services, handles things like permits and route planning overseas, but I do the rest. I coordinate with the local civil aviation authorities and Fixed Base Operators (FBO) regarding ground support. I ensure hotel and transportation and meals are provided, along with seeking out donors to help offset the cost to our all-volunteer non-profit organization. All of this is fairly straight forward until something unexpected happens. 

In the early part of our Global Flight for STEM in late May and early June, Shaesta experienced weather delays in the Northern Atlantic region and was stuck in Canada for longer than we anticipated. We were on a “day-for-day schedule slip”, as PMP-certified people call it, making go/no-go decisions daily. Back then we had 32 stops ahead of us and about 20 of them had Outreach event planning going on. I spent a lot of time on the phone and emailing people all over the globe, shifting the schedule around and trying to keep everyone happy. Not an easy task! There were times when I was fearful of people being really upset, but for the most part, everyone was very supportive and willing to roll with our schedule changes, as they were also passionate about our mission and anxious for Shaesta to arrive.

 One truly difficult week occurred when the site leads in the Middle East contacted me after seeing my new schedule. They all said “Jill, you cannot have Shaesta come during that time. It’s during our Eid holiday and no one will be here! We all go on vacation after Ramadan!” The guidance I was given was to delay Shaesta’s arrival into Cairo, Egypt until early July. I had to work with Shaesta and our team to figure out a new plan, to balance out the fact that we had to extend our entire Global mission by several weeks. So what was the Silver Lining here? We were able to fly Shaesta to London on a commercial flight (we had previously removed the U.K. from our route), and she had three days of amazing Outreach events there. And, we were able to add Athens, Greece to our schedule, where Shaesta met with aviation students and visited children in an orphanage, giving them hope for their future. These events would not have been possible if we had stayed on schedule!

Shaesta with a group of kids at the Athens International Airport. (Photo: Dreams Soar)

Shaesta with a group of kids at the Athens International Airport. (Photo: Dreams Soar)

Another crazy time was during the monsoon season in India, which we were up against because of prior delays pushing our schedule out. We had to remove three locations from our route and look for a more southerly path for Shaesta to fly from Dubai to Singapore. We spent days looking for airports that carried the fuel used in a Bonanza A36, called Avgas. It turns out that hardly anyone in that part of world carries Avgas, nor will anyone ship it there, so it was a real challenge. We finally figured it out and had our new route planned, and I was so relieved! The next day Shaesta and I were messaging back and forth with our weather team, and Shaesta sent this simple question to them: “Did you see the SIGMET about the volcanic ash over my destination airport?” WHAT? All I could think of is “YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!” Yes, it was true. Mount Sinabung in Sumatra, Indonesia had erupted, spewing lava and ash for almost three miles up into the air. So we took a breath and started over, looking for yet another alternate airport, which we did find in Thailand. Was there a silver lining here? Other than the satisfaction that we did figure it out after being very fearful that we were out of options, I was able to find a very cool aviation-themed hotel for Shaesta to stay in at that stop, the Marina Express-AVIATOR-Phuket Airport.

The Marina Express-AVIATOR-Phuket Airport hotel. (Photo: Dreams Soar)

The Marina Express-AVIATOR-Phuket Airport hotel. (Photo: Dreams Soar)

 So remember….. Always Look for the Silver Lining! It might be hard to find, but it’s there.