The decorative conversion of Lancaster Airport’s terminal with elegant royal blue accents and signage bearing the Eastern Mennonite University Lancaster logo was one sight associate provost Mary Jensen and her team won’t soon forget.
The April 10 evening event in the terminal was a dual celebration: a launch party to announce EMU Lancaster’s new aviation program, the first collegiate degree of its kind in the region, and a gathering of EMU alumni in honor of LovEMU Giving Day, a one-day fundraising campaign.
Lancaster Airport, the fourth busiest airport in the state, is home to 24 businesses, including the regional carrier Southern Airways.
Some of those aviation professionals were in attendance among the crowd, which also included business owners, media invitees, prospective students and EMU alumni.
“There was excitement in the air,” said Jensen. “This program illustrates the unique role EMU Lancaster plays in the region, bringing innovative, partnership-based programs in response to the demands and economic needs of our region.”
Four years in the making, the fully accredited program — offering a bachelor’s degree in leadership and organizational management with private and commercial pilot certificates, instrument rating and a flight instructor certificate —is definitely off the ground and in the air. Several students are enrolled for fall 2018, and word is spreading about the new opportunity. The program courses meet one day per week on site at EMU at Lancaster, allowing students the flexibility to work and conveniently schedule their individual flight time the rest of the week.
Partnering with AeroTech Services, Inc., a Lititz-based flight school, the new program develops students as pilots and leadership-oriented professionals from the first semester of ground school through an internship in the aviation field and beyond.
Matt Kauffman, director of operations at Aero-Tech, said the collaboration is an exciting opportunity to join an organization with the similar goal of developing people to their full potential. Aero-Tech’s values of “community, integrity, stewardship and service” align well with EMU’s mission of preparing students to serve and lead in a global context, he added. And he’s especially intrigued by the potential of working with pilots who are also engaged in collegiate studies and bring a different perspective into their flight training.
Both Tom Baldridge, president and CEO of The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and David Eberly, Lancaster Airport director, pointed out the program’s potential economic benefits to area residents and businesses.
A recent study by Boeing projects a shortage of 637,000 pilots over the next 20 years, Eberly said, which roughly means 87 new pilots a day “to maintain airlines to today’s standards.”
EMU Lancaster’s program provides an FAA-approved expedited path to earning an Airline Transport License, saving students both time and money and leading more quickly to employment in a high-demand career, Eberly said.
Baldridge called the program “one more opportunity to keep these graduates locally, to provide family-sustaining jobs and to create a greater economic impact in this region.”
The program will coordinated by Jim Cistone, who holds a PhD in aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and has more than three decades of varying experience in the field, from business development, engineering, software development and program management. He is also a certified flight instructor.
Jensen concluded with thanks to her team at EMU Lancaster, “one of the most innovative, collaborative and engaged groups of people with whom I’ve ever had the opportunity to work.”
She especially noted the efforts of Julie Siegfried, director of operations, and Catherine Stover, associate director of marketing and communication. The duo “caught the vision” and conducted market research and a feasibility study.
“It was all here waiting when I arrived in 2015,” said Jensen, who became the site’s first associate provost in 2015. “So without those two women, their vision and perseverance, this probably could not have happened.”