Prospective students test fly during aviation day

By Matt Daray


Future aviation students not only had a chance to tour the university’s aviation facilities, but they also took a flight of their own.

The university sponsored an aviation career day Saturday that brought 110 potential students to the facility to investigate what the university can offer. Chancellor Rita Cheng, along with aviation faculty and students, welcomed a plane full of students primarily from the Chicago area to tour the Department of Aviation Technologies. Chicago flight crew members included aviation alumni who returned to the university that launched their careers.


David NewMyer, department chairperson and professor of aviation management and flight, said Aviation Day is part of the university’s partnership with United Airlines, which presently employs between 400-500 alumni.

“(United Airlines is) the home state airline, and we’re the home state public university with aviation since (the University of Illinois’ program) is closing,” he said. “It’s a natural partnership for us to work with them on developing future pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, managers that work at the airline.”

NewMyer said the day’s goal was to recruit students and allow them to see the university’s facilities for themselves. Having alumni present allows students to meet members of their future career fields and ask job-related questions, he said.

“The flight crew, the cabin crew . . . and then the other United volunteers are almost all SIU graduates,” he said. “They’re coming back to visit where they went to school. They’re coming back to share their career experience with the kids.”

Alumnus and pilot Todd Mee said the day is important because it helps recruit students to a field that will be in high demand in the coming years as a large number of older pilots begin to retire.

“I think it promotes not only United Airlines, but the aviation program that (SIU) built so strongly here throughout the years,” he said. “It’s produced many, many pilots that now fly with United and all the other airlines as well.”

Mee said it has been 20 years since he visited the campus, so it is exciting for him to see how things have changed. He said the program helped him become successful in his career and has only improved in quality.


“I was the first intern from SIU to go to United Airlines, so I can vouch for the fact that the program started a long time ago and has got nothing but better and better throughout the years,” he said.

However, the day attracted more than students and alumni. Individuals from out of state as well as professors from other university departments came to see the program.

Tennessee resident Brenda Thomas said she visited so her young grandson could get a closer look at the planes. She said she thought the opportunity was exciting because it allowed individuals to inspect the facilities and the planes.

Sylvia Smith-Thoms, professor of animal science, food and nutrition, said NewMyer invited her to visit the career day with her family. Aviation Day is important because it allows staff to highlight one of the university’s most impressive programs, she said.

“It’s an outstanding program and I think it’s a great representation of the university,” she said. “This is one of the programs that sets our university apart (and) makes us stand out.”