Aviation recruits take first class flight
October 21, 2013,
A cloudy day and cold breeze was not enough to deter one of the most unique college recruiting events in the country.
The SIU School of Aviation partnered with American Airlines to hold one of their annual career days on Saturday.
The event involves flying potential recruits in a 160-passenger McDonnell Douglas MD-80 donated by American Airlines from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to the Southern Illinois Airport. 120 students made the trip from Chicago to come to the SIU campus.
David NewMyer, Aviation Management and Flight chairman, said the event is the only one of its kind in the country and is an invaluable asset in recruiting new students.
“Between the career days, probably 50 or 60 of the incoming students have been on one in any given year,” he said. “That’s out of usually 90 to 100 new students in aviation and flight management. It makes a big difference in recruiting.”
Most of the students are from the Chicago area, but some come from as far as California or Montana to take part in the event, said NewMyer.
Registration for the event starts in August when students interested in aviation, who range in age from freshman in high school to college transfers, sign up for the event online. David Jaynes, coordinator of aviation facilities and enrollment, said the event is very popular and causes a large influx in traffic to the website.
The event is also low-cost because the plane is taken out of circulation by American Airlines for the day. Jaynes and NewMyer said the only cost the university incurs is around $5,000 to help pay for fuel.
“But to charter an airplane for the day would be $25,000 or $30,000,” NewMyer said. “And the other part of it is, let’s say I want to advertise in (a trade magazine) about SIU, that would cost – just for a half page ad that you don’t know people would see – that would be $10,000 at least.”
The plane was staffed entirely by volunteers, many of whom are SIU alumni. Capt. Jay Rud, a 1983 alum, was instrumental in starting the program nine years ago and recruiting volunteers.
“This trip, we get approximately 115 to 120 kids feet on the campus to check it out, so I think this is ideal,” he said. “A lot of us alumni come down. We’ve got 21 alumni that are accompanying the students as mentors to answer questions and they see that support and I think it’s very powerful.”
Capt. Chris Wood said the unique nature of the event was a huge draw to the university.
“My understanding is SIU is the only aviation university that has these types of trips planned,” he said. “I know when I was at Purdue, they didn’t have anything like this. I think this is an excellent way – especially for the Chicago area students – to recruit from that area.”
The annual event starts at around 8 a.m. when students begin boarding at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. From there, it is a roughly 40 minute flight to Carbondale where the prospective students eat an in-flight breakfast.
After landing, the prospective students take a tour of the airport and transportation center guided by student volunteers from the School of Aviation, many of whom attended one of the same career days. Travis MacKerell, a senior studying aviation technology from Glen Ellyn, said after he attended an event in 2008, it helped him learn more about the program and solidified SIU as his school of choice.
“I was actually more interested in the flight program at that point,” he said. “But I saw this and it made me more interested in the technology.”
Throughout the rest of the day, students tour the campus, attend mini-lectures, use flight simulators and even fly in the training aircrafts used by the university. The students then board the plane and return to Chicago around 5 p.m.
The prospective students were giddy at the chance to see a professional school of aviation and hear from professionals in the field. Patrick Brady, a senior at Fenton High School in Bensenville, said the event helped solve any questions he had regarding the program.
“I know what I’m going to be getting into now that I get a tour of the campus and see what it’s like,” he said. “It made me like it better.”
Michael Ranagos, a sophomore at Northridge Prepratory School in Niles, said he was impressed by the facilities and the workmanship of the program.
“I’m really excited about the big airplane that maintenance works on,” he said. “I like how they make their own wings. We walked around inside and saw this big radial engine and a bunch of other four-stroke two- and three-cylinder engines. It looks like they do a lot of work here. It’s pretty cool.”
Parents of some of the students were also in attendance. Rick and Marcy Zeoli from McHenry have a 17-year-old son and said they were impressed by the event. Marcy said the special nature of the event helped her get a better picture of the university.
The School of Aviation will hold its second career day via a joint venture with United Airlines in April 2014.