Enrollment, interest climbing as Parkland hits fifth year at helm
In a few years, Kyle Schum will likely set foot in the cockpit of a commercial plane and take a seat in a pilot’s chair.
But when he graduated a semester early from Mahomet-Seymour High School in December of 2016, he wasn’t sure what career path he wanted to take. Maybe he’d become a doctor or a lawyer, he thought, but aviation never crossed his mind.
Because it was the middle of the school year, he decided to get a jump-start on his college education at Parkland College.
“I came here to Parkland College because I graduated early and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, like most 17-, 18-year-olds,” he said.
That’s when he learned about the Institute of Aviation, which Parkland took over from Illinois five years ago.
Although his father took him to a few air shows when he was younger, Schum had no background in flying planes.
But he decided to give it a try.
“I really didn’t have much knowledge of it,” he said. “I think I played around on a Microsoft Flight Simulator a little bit. ... I came into it a little unsure.
“But once I got into it, I really, really enjoyed it. Loved the flying portion of it, loved the knowledge portion of it. And here I am today.”
Right away, Schum enjoyed the process, and his passion grew.
Two years later, Schum has become a certified flight instructor for an institute that’s growing exponentially — even in the midst of a global pilot shortage.
“Most programs, most colleges — especially community colleges — have seen a decline in enrollment,” Chief Pilot Don Talleur said. “I think it makes a statement that at that same time, our program continues to grow.”
Parkland took over the Flight Institute in 2014, when the program was on the brink of being shut down. After five years of growth, enrollment is up to 90 students.
“Each school year, our enrollment has steadily grown,” Talleur said, “and we’ve steadily added on staff.”
Future growth may depend on the amount of flight instructors the program can produce and keep. Like Schum, many students use flight instruction to rack up hours to become commercial pilots. Schum plans on finishing out his four-year degree online before trying to get a job with an airline.
Because of the pilot shortage, that shouldn’t take long.
For now, though, he’s enjoying teaching, which he considers a strong way to continue the learning process. Last Tuesday, he confidently directed student Adam Cafin, who is looking at aviation as a second career after finishing his military career, on a flight from Willard Airport, where the Flight Institute is based, across the Illinois campus to Frasca Airport and back.
Just a few years after picking up aviation, flight has become an obsession.
“As far as being a high school mathematics teacher, I wouldn’t really be interested in that, but I’m really passionate about flying,” Schum said. “Because I love it so much, I love teaching. ... It’s definitely a challenge, but that’s what I enjoy about it.
“Really, the best office you can have is up there in the clouds somewhere.”