July 31, 2009

SIUC, Shawnee pair up on aviation tech program

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A partnership between Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Shawnee Community College may pay dividends for one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of the state.

The start of aviation technology classes at Shawnee’s Anna Extension Center next month through a dual enrollment agreement with one of SIUC’s nationally recognized aviation programs is a critical step in revitalizing the region, Shawnee Community College President Larry E. Peterson said.

“It’s about a lot more than aviation,” said Peterson, a three-degree SIUC graduate. “It’s about hope. It’s about opportunity.”

Associate Professor Michael A Burgener, chair of the University’s Department of Aviation Technologies, said the collaboration will not only provide new technical education opportunities for people in Alexander County and the surrounding area, but also as an opportunity for economic development in Southern Illinois.

The genesis for the program began about two years ago -- shortly after Peterson became president at Shawnee in December 2007 - - and after hopes for a proposed coal-gasification plant that included Cairo Regional Airport property began to fade.

Peterson said he viewed the airport as “a tremendous resource for us that we should use.” The college’s commitment to an extension center in Alexander County and the University’s impeccable reputation with its aviation program prompted efforts to create a satellite site, Peterson said.

“Everybody at SIUC has been great to work with and very supportive of getting things done,” Peterson said. “People want to work together. It’s this kind of thinking-outside-the-box partnership between a community college and a four-year institution, with a unique program in terms of aviation, that could really do a lot for the southern five counties.”

Officials continue to work on funding opportunities for a proposed $5.6 million aviation maintenance training facility at Cairo Regional Airport. Until then, aviation technology classes will be at the extension center in Anna with lab classes at Southern Illinois Airport, located between Murphysboro and Carbondale.

Once built, the facility will also provide additional classroom space to replace Shawnee’s existing extension center in Cairo, providing “a tremendous educational impact on programs,” Peterson said.

An aviation mechanics training facility that offers a continual supply of highly skilled aviation workers could spur additional economic development by attracting aviation-related businesses or repair facilities to locate at Cairo’s municipal airport, Burgener said.

The goal is to replicate the success of the St. Louis Downtown Airport in Sauget, said Peterson, noting that 3,000 acres surround the Alexander County airport.

“With an existing airport, education and training center on site, we can use that as an anchor for economic development at the airport,” Peterson said. A large percentage of aviation maintenance is done in Latin America and Europe, leaving open both training opportunities for those workers, and the potential for aviation-related firms to relocate to Cairo.

Peterson noted that three of the state’s five poorest counties are within the Shawnee Community College district -- Alexander, Johnson and Pulaski.

Peterson expects eight to 10 students to enroll in the program this fall. Earlier this month, the college’s Board of Trustees approved up to 12, two-year tuition waivers for Shawnee-related tuition costs.

“The Board of Trustees clearly has been supportive of this effort and supportive of opportunities for people in this district,” Peterson said. He also anticipates more interest as high school students become aware of the program.

Peterson believes interest in the aviation field is strong. In May, the college hosted an aviation day at the Cairo airport that attracted 1,200 students in grades six through 12 from throughout the district, southeast Missouri and Marion.

Even with dips in some areas of aviation, the aviation technology sector remains a vibrant industry for graduates, Burgener said.

During the first two years, students will work toward an associate degree in aviation science. Shawnee Community College will provide instruction in general studies courses, with SIUC faculty providing aviation technology instruction. Students then will attend SIUC the final two years to earn a bachelor’s degree in aviation technology, with specializations in aircraft maintenance, aviation electronics or helicopters.

Burgener said assistant professors Daniel Mattingly and Karen J. Sullivan will teach the two aviation technology courses this semester: federal aviation regulations and applied science. Students will also take English composition and math pre-calculus classes at Shawnee for a total of 14 hours this semester.

The aviation technology class meets each Wednesday in Anna, starting Aug. 26. Students attend lab classes each Friday, beginning Aug. 28.

“Students are getting the benefit of being able to get their general studies courses at a reduced rate while earning a degree in aviation science at Shawnee College, which we offer here,” Burgener said.

Burgener praised the level of support from both institutions for the program.

“We are looking forward to this. We are anxiously awaiting to see how it starts out,” he said.

Peterson noted another benefit of the relationship between Shawnee Community College and SIUC. Two years ago, five students transferred from Shawnee Community College to SIUC. This year, there will be 67 transfer students, he said.