On a cloudy and rainy Tuesday morning, May 4th, Southeast Missouri State University officially signed an employment partnership pipeline agreement with Republic Airways inside the "Commander Hangar" at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.
It was an event years and months in the making. Many University and some city government officials were present for the occasion.
Dr. Ken Jackson, who is now the Director of Aviation Operations at Southeast Missouri State University, addresssed the crowd and thanked them for making the vision a reality.
"Why we're here today is because a lot of people, not just myself - and while Dr. Vargas has certainly been the guiding force - there have been a lot of people at SEMO that have done a lot of hours of work to make this possible," said Dr. Jackson.
He then thanked a few of the departments that were instrumental in the process, which included the admissions team at Southeast, the marketing team, the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the finance team, and the communications team.
Jackson also said that it was a dream come true, "knowing that there was a shortage of pilots, and working with local school districts to help create a career pathway that would allow students in [the] SEMO area, and beyond, to earn a four-year, bachelor of science professional pilot degree."
Katrina Amos, airport manager at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, also spoke about the importance of the agreement to the area.
She emphasized the interest of younger students who visit the airport, who often inquire about a career in the aviation business.
She said she often gets these questions: "Katrina, what can we do? How can we tap into this? How do we become a pilot, or how do we become an airport manager like you?"
"And before, I've always had to say, 'Well, you can go to college at UCM, or you can go to all these other colleges,' but there was never an outlet here in our southeast Missouri area. And so now, I'm excited to be able to say we have that now."
Lauren Gaudion, director of communications at Republic Airways, and Southeast alumna, also spoke about her role in the partnership and described the company, which she said operates daily flights for American, Delta, and United Airlines.
Guadion emphasized why the connection with Southeast Missouri State University was so important to their company and the students' future.
"Southeast students, once they graduate from here, and join our Republic family, they'll be operating commercial airline flights for those main lines. So it's a very exciting opportunity, and it's really a stepping stone for them, to their career in aviation."
Republic Airways, Guadion said, has pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians, and corporate staff of 6,000 employees who work for their airlines.
She acknowleged the recent challenges of the airline industry and higher education, but said, "signing this pipeline partnership program today is a sign of countless and significant opportunities that lie ahead."
"For Southeast flight students," she said, "it means that they have an opportunity to interview with Republic upon completion of their instrument rating, which is about the time they complete their sophomore year in college."
Joe Meyer, a pilot for Republic Airways and native of Bloomfield, spoke about his journey becoming a pilot.
"As the aviation industry is largely covert, I was the first pilot in the family, so it took a lot of research on how to even pursue a career in aviation," said Meyer.
He said the first question was always, "Where do I start?" "With the introduction of an aviation program here at SEMO, the process of how to get started will be simplified - inspiring pilots such as I once was," said Meyer.
Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University, recalled the process of establishing the Professional Pilot Program.
In May of last year, the new undergraduate program was approved by the University's Board of Regents.
Vargas described one of the final steps in the process. "During the summer [of 2020], it received approval from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, and the coordinating board for Higher Education. And on December the 4th of 2020, of course, six months to-the-day, we met here, to formalize with US Aviation."
US Aviation Group, based in Denton, Texas, is the logistics and curriculum provider in the partnership between Southeast Missouri State University and Republic Airways.
The company provides professional flight training, aviation services, and support to global customers--which also includes higher education institutions, 11 foreign airlines, and the U.S. Department of Defense. Chief Development Officer and Executive VP of US Aviation, Mark Taylor was on hand to represent the company.
The event concluded with a signing of an ACPIP (Aviation Career Pipeline Interview Program Agreement) between the Director of Corporate Communications and Public Relations at Republic Airways Lauren Gaudion, and Dr. Carlos Vargas.
In "Commander Hangar" at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, with several small and medium sized aircraft, the next generation of pilots in the Southeast Missouri Region will soon begin their aviation careers.