Although it’s been one of the biggest challenges she would ever encounter, that’s exactly what she is doing – Zhuchenko is a professional pilot and loving every moment of it.
Zhuchenko was born in Ukraine and immigrated with her family to the United States when she was 4 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," Zhuchenko recalled, adding that she was not prepared for where that discovery flight would take her.
As Zhuchenko became more familiar with the aviation community, she was intrigued by the lifestyle of those who worked in aviation. She found herself 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 she decided aviation was the right path for her, she didn’t want to sacrifice to earn a degree, and found California Aeronautical University—where she could earn six pilot certificates and ratings along with her undergraduate degree.
“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 [timeliest] manner possible, while also being affordable enough.”
As a student at CAU, Zhuchenko was on track to graduate in about three years and be well-prepared to become a professional pilot. The road to reaching her goals was not easy and she faced many challenges along the way. The most challenging aspect was being a woman in a male-dominated field, she recalled. Zhuchenko was wary of being judged more harshly than her male counterparts. But she persisted - in large part because of her strong support system. Zhuchenko's parents have been her biggest supporters, despite their initial skepticism about her career choice. Nonetheless, they supported her choice to pursue her piloting career and are very proud of her success.
In 2021, Zhuchenko graduated from CAU with a bachelor of science in aeronautics. But her journey with CAU didn’t end after graduation. Though Zhuchenko's initial plan was to become an airline pilot, she found a new passion while attending CAU when she had the opportunity to work as a certificated flight instructor teaching fellow students. To her surprise she fell in love with instructing the next generation of pilots.
She found she loved helping students achieve their aviation goals and be the best pilot 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).”
Zhuchenko worked her way up at CAU and now serves as CAU's assistant director of flight instruction. She's even considering becoming a designated pilot examiner.
Zhuchenko offered a few words of advice for aspiring pilots: