Spreading its wings

By Gus Bode

As high-ranking officials in the world of flight complimented the SIUC aviation programs Thursday, the department’s room for improvement was over their shoulders.

U.S. Congressman Jerry Costello and FAA Administrator Marion Blakey addressed a crowd of more than 500 people at Southern Illinois Airport in front of about 95 percent of the university’s Boeing 737.

The hangar did not have room for the other seven feet of the aircraft.

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The aviation program – regarded as one of the best in the nation – is looking for funding from a state capital bill that would pay for the proposed $42 million Transportation Education Center.

The center, which has been in the planning stages since the late 1990s, would house the aviation programs as well as the automotive technology program, which is also regarded as one of the best in the nation.

Costello said the visit was his first day out in the field after being named chairman of an aviation subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“When you look at comparable programs throughout the United States, the program here at Southern Illinois University is second to none,” Costello said. “I’m committed to doing everything that I possibly can to strengthen the program to meet the challenges of the future.”

The 270,000 square-foot center would be located at the Southern Illinois Airport on Route 13 in Murphysboro.

SIU President Glenn Poshard said it is one of his top priorities.

“It’s been at the top of our list for some time,” Poshard said. “We need that tech center to combine [the programs], and if we do we’ll double the number of students we can serve.”

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The aviation program in particular attracts more students than the current facilities can accommodate, said College of Applied Sciences and Arts Dean Paul Sarvela.

Sarvela said the program has received more than 180 applications for next semester so far, but is only able to accept 70.

Poshard said the highly anticipated capital bill is critical to the center’s funding.

He said legislators in Springfield have said this is the year for the bill, but its revenue streams are still lacking.

“I think it’s the chancellor’s job and my job to continue to lobby this as effectively as we can so in the eventuality that those funds are found, we’ll be front and center in that capital bill in terms of getting this tech center built,” Poshard said.

Jennifer Byrne, a senior from Algonquin studying aviation management, said she is eager to see the Transportation Education Center built, even though she will never use it as a student.

“I can’t wait to come back and see it,” she said. “I’d like to keep funding the program, because it is a really great program.”

Skylar Venema, a junior from Westmont studying aviation technologies, said a new facility would be nice, but it is not the key to the success of the program.

“I think it’s not so much the facility,” he said. “It’s more the quality of the instructing going on in the facility.”

[email protected] 536-3311 ext. 254

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