Students getting off a plane

High school students arrive for the United Airlines-SIU Aviation Career Day at Southern Illinois Airport in 2022. (Photo by Brandon Macier)

October 11, 2023

United Airlines-SIU Aviation Career Day on Oct. 14 helps aviation dreams soar

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — United Airlines Capt. David Bertellotti and First Officer Zachary McTee will have a different perspective this year when they approach Southern Illinois Airport on Saturday, Oct. 14, to introduce more than 130 Chicago-area high school students to Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s nationally recognized aviation program.

With the growing need for aviation industry professionals, Bertellotti and McTee will be among those helping students who are considering aviation careers chart their own future flight plans during the United Airlines-SIU Aviation Career Day. As students, Bertellotti and McTee, both SIU Carbondale alumni, honed their own skills on single-engine planes. Saturday, they will guide a Boeing 737-800 airliner from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Southern Illinois.

“I've always dreamt of operating a Career Day flight, and it is a tremendous privilege to be doing so,” said McTee, who grew up in Shorewood, Illinois, and as a high school student, attended a United Airlines Career Day at SIU in 2011, and later led tours during career day events as an Aviation Ambassador while a student at SIU. “I hope to serve as a role model for the next generation of aviation, the same as those who came before inspired me.”

The career-oriented presentations to students include Q&A opportunities, tours of the aviation program’s home — the Glenn Poshard Transportation Education Center at Southern Illinois Airport near Murphysboro — and the SIU campus. In addition to the high school students, many of whom are from Chicago Public Schools and magnet high schools, 25-30 United Airlines volunteers, who are also Saluki alumni, will be aboard. The airline’s volunteers come from various departments, including maintenance technicians, pilots and flight attendants.

Media Availability 

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to attend the United Airlines-SIU Aviation Career Day, participate in courtesy flights and interview students, faculty and alumni. The plane will land at the Southern Illinois Airport about 8:45-9 a.m. Saturday. Activities will continue until 3:30 p.m., with a break for lunch at 12:15 p.m. For more information, contact Michael Burgener, director of the School of Aviation, at 618-453-8898 or For information from United Airlines, contact Katrina Dembinski at or 847-778-8308.

Bertellotti graduated from SIU in May 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in aviation management and was a certified flight instructor in the program for four years. While in school, he was on the Flying Salukis, eventually becoming a coach on the team.

“I learned so much when I was in Carbondale,” he said. “So many incredible memories and friendships formed. I feel so honored to be able to finally have the privilege of flying one of our beautiful B737 MAX 8s to and from good, old MDH (Southern Illinois Airport).”

Strong link with a new partnership

This is the 23rd career day involving United Airlines and SIU Aviation; the program was interrupted by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership extends beyond the career day. In September 2022, SIU and United signed an agreement that provides the most secure career path for aviation students interested in becoming professional pilots through United’s Aviate career development program, which will also be part of the presentation to students on Saturday. As members of an Aviate university partner, SIU aviation students and instructors who apply and are successful in the Aviate selection process will join the program, receive a conditional job offer from United and enjoy the benefit from a defined career path.

Michael Burgener, director of the School of Aviation, noted the event’s importance for bringing hundreds of high school students to campus each year to learn about aviation careers. For many, this is the first time they will ride in an airplane and visit the campus, he said.

“We are so thankful for our longstanding partnership with United Airlines,” Burgener said. “We hope to instill in students a love for aviation and build awareness of the great opportunities that come from a career in aviation. We hope they take that home with them.”

“We are excited to sponsor this year’s SIU Aviation Career Day flying students from Chicago area schools to Carbondale to learn about educational and career opportunities in aviation,” said Marc Champion, vice president of flight ops at United Airlines. “SIU has been a fantastic partner in bringing this event to life over the decades, which has served as an inspiration to many current and former students.” 

Career opportunities on the increase

Over its history, more than 2,900 high school students have participated in the event. While designed as an outreach event to introduce students to the wide range of opportunities within the aviation industry, organizers note the career day serves as a recruiting mechanism, particularly for women and other underrepresented groups. While annual numbers vary, between five and 20 participants each year will return to SIU to pursue an aviation career.

The Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook for 2023-2042 projects the next 20 years the need for 2.3 million new commercial aviation industry personnel, including 649,000 pilots, 690,000 maintenance technicians and 938,000 cabin crew members, as worldwide fleets are expected to nearly double.