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CAU grad discovers joy of training the next generation of aviators

If someone would have told a young Olga Zhuchenko in Ukraine that she would become a professional pilot and train the next generation of aviators, she would never have believed them.
Olga as the Assistant Director of Flight Instruction at California Aeronautical University.

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.

Olga working as a Residence Assistant at CAU's on-campus residence hall.

“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.

Olga helping a Young Marine experience flight in CAU's flight simulator.

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:

  • 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.
Topics: Training and Safety, Student, Scholarship

California Aeronautical University

California Aeronautical University (CAU) is preparing the next generation of aviation professionals. Serving students from all over the country, the University offers career-focused programs in aviation, aviation business, and aircraft maintenance. With on-airport locations throughout California and in Arizona that provide an ideal learning environment, CAU courses are delivered in a year-round, fast-paced schedule that enables students to enter the pipeline for aviation careers in a shorter amount of time. Through the University’s strong partnerships with airlines, influential aviation organizations, and leaders in the aviation community, CAU graduates become a part of a larger aviation network and reap the benefits of these relationships, including direct access to several airline cadet programs. The University offers access federal student financial aid, scholarships, and veteran benefits to those who qualify. For more information, visit