MTSU's partnership with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines will not only be a boon for the aerospace department's professional pilot majors, including student veterans, but also for prospective students, the department's growth and potentially Delta's major hubs in Nashville, Atlanta and Cincinnati.
Delta announced Tuesday (July 17) it plans to hire more than 8,000 pilots during the next decade to replace current pilots reaching retirement age and to support planned growth in its fleet and network.
Simultaneously, it launched the Delta Propel Pilot Career Path Program with eight universities nationwide to reach out to the next generation of pilots, including Middle Tennessee State University pro pilot majors.
The Collegiate Pilot Career Path application process begins in August. Successful candidates will be provided a "qualified job offer," detailing a defined path and an accelerated timeline to become a Delta pilot.
"The fact that MTSU is only one of eight selected by Delta for the rollout of this program speaks to the high regard the industry extends to graduates of our aerospace department," MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said.
"We're uniquely positioned to supply Delta with talented and extremely capable pilots to fill its anticipated needs," he added. "Our university takes pride in producing graduates ready for the challenges of the 21st-century workforce."
Steve Dickson, Delta's senior vice president-Flight Operations, said the airline "conducted several years of research to create a pilot outreach and pathway program that will inspire and attract the next generation of high-quality talent."
Students with the qualified job offer will receive an advanced engagement opportunity to immerse themselves in the Delta culture on and off campus, including having a Delta pilot as a mentor for the duration of their training and career, plus a financial assistance opportunity in the form of a guaranteed, interest-free loan to complete their flight training.
Students can start their careers flying for a Delta Connection regional airline, fly for the Air National Guard or Reserves, work as a flight instructor and flying for Delta Private Jets and pursue a pilot job at Delta in 3½ years.
Along with MTSU, Delta also chose Auburn University Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach, Florida; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott, Arizona; Middle Georgia State University; Minnesota State University-Mankato; the University of North Dakota; and Western Michigan University.
Wendy Beckman, MTSU aerospace department chair, said the professional pilot program began as a standalone concentration in the early 1990s.
"The program has steadily grown in size and quality since that time," she said. "While there are no official rankings of collegiate aviation programs, feedback from industry has long indicated to us that we are in the top tier of such programs."
"Delta's interest in partnering with us for the Propel Program was a further indicator of that recognition," she added, "and we are gratified to know that our faculty and staff's efforts at continuous improvement in preparing our students for this career field have been recognized as a valuable contribution to the industry."
Nick Lenczycki, MTSU Flight Operations program manager, said students being considered would include those entering their junior year, seniors and recent graduates.
While there's no cap on the number of applicants, Lenczycki noted the process includes an interview, "so they do have t interview well and be selected for the program."
This opportunity with Delta marks a milestone.
"MTSU has never partnered with a carrier like this, and to be able to partner with a renowned airline like Delta and have an accelerated path to become a pilot with them, it's a tremendous opportunity for our students," Lenczycki said. "We have one of the premier aerospace programs in the country."
Hilary Miller, director of the Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, said this also will open the door for MTSU's student veterans since aerospace is the most popular choice for the 1,000 student veteran and family members.
"A career in aerospace is a natural fit for many of our student veterans, so this is a wonderful opportunity for those interested in becoming professional airline pilots," Miller said.
"One of the key missions of the Daniels Center is helping our student veterans move into promising careers after graduation, so we look forward to working with the Department of Aerospace in sharing information about the benefits of Delta's new program and how our student veterans can apply," she added.
Aerospace actively and successfully recruits prospective students through its basic and advanced youth summer camps, a K-12 education partnership with teachers and an agreement with the Civil Air Patrol's cadet program, the volunteer civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and this year's selection as one of five U.S. colleges for use of a Cessna Skyhawk 172 to take to major air shows and competitions.
MTSU has more than 240 combined undergraduate and graduate programs.