Portia Shinya Portrait

Scholarship Takes Student from Zimbabwe to the Sky

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As a girl in Zimbabwe, Portia Shinya watched a sleek, silver bird fly far overhead. The distance between her and that jet felt incalculable. The J.R. Martin Endowed Scholarship closed that gap and allowed her to step onto a jet that took her more than 9,000 miles from home, en route to a career in aviation. Today, as a junior earning a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics, airplanes are the center of her life.

“I work at the flight line and a window looks out on the ramp. I see planes. It’s part of my everyday life. Now planes are always just outside my door. I went from 0% aviation to 100% aviation. It’s insane. I want to pinch myself,” she says.

She hopes to fly business jets after graduation.

On the ground in Prescott, she is immersed in aviation and a very different way of life, coming from a country that she notes is “smaller than Texas.” Participating in the International Student Association helps her adapt to American culture and make practical adjustments to lifestyle differences, such as the lack of public transportation compared to the system she grew up in. She has had the chance to see a little more of the U.S., visiting Florida and California.

Though she is far from home, her family is supportive. She has an older sister and a younger brother and sister in high school. She laughs a little about her parents’ premature pride in identifying her as a pilot.

“They already see me as a pilot. Every time they see a pilot, they say, ‘Oh, that’s my daughter…’ I have to remind them I am in training,” she says. “They are stoked, though. My mother is not a big flier, so she really thinks I have guts to do this.”

So far, one of her favorite studies has been aerodynamics, the class that helped her connect the dots between the experience of flight and what makes it possible.

“I will never forget the day when I finally understood it. It was a light bulb moment. I called a friend and said, ‘It is still amazing but now it all makes sense.’”

Shinya set a personal goal beyond an aviation career. She wants to keep surprising her four-year-old self. So far, her life at Embry-Riddle has done just that.

“I constantly surprise myself … starting with getting on a plane for the first time to go live in a huge, foreign country. It would shock that little girl to know ‘we’ are in the States, alone. It’s life changing.”

She is grateful for the scholarship that will make her early dream her future reality.

“I come from a family that never could have afforded to fund my education. And I come from a culture that takes loyalty very seriously,” she says. “My gratitude helps me persevere. I work hard to be worthy of the faith placed in me.”

She also works hard not to disappoint that four-year-old who had never been near an airport or airplane yet somehow knew that she was meant to fly.

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