Korean connections by air

Aerospace university summer program draws record UND enrollment through value of credits, cultural exchange

Luana Liang (left) and Kyle Finseth are two of 11 UND students attending summer classes at Korea Aerospace University for three weeks in July. They will earn credits toward graduation without missing substantial flight training. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

When Luana Liang and Kyle Finseth sat down together in McCannel Hall, it would have been difficult to know they were there for the same reason.

Liang just finished her freshman year at UND and her first semester of flying for her commercial aviation major. She’s planning to pair that with a flight education double-major while maintaining a spot on the cheer team for North Dakota Athletics.

Finseth has enough credits to be considered a “super senior,” but transferred to UND this January to pursue his passion for flight. He’s simultaneously amid a mechanical engineering degree from his previous years in college, on top of years of military service.

He caught on to the fact they’re trying to complete flights for the same course.

“Oh, you’re also finishing [Introduction to Aviation] 102 this summer? Cool, same here,” he said.

Flight hours are a crucial commodity in UND’s aviation programs at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. Missing a semester of flight could easily offset a four-year graduation plan.

Whitney Maine recognizes that as she tries to develop opportunities for UND students to study abroad.

“Most programs are a semester long – that’s five months away from flying,” she said. “There are few study abroad opportunities for aviation students.”

The rare chance for study abroad and aviation to coexist might be the reason for increased interest in Korea Aerospace University’s (KAU) summer exchange – a three-week program in which students can earn up to eight credits, paid at UND’s tuition rates and transferable toward courses required for graduation. This year, 11 UND students are attending, which nearly doubles past enrollment.

Great opportunity

Both Liang and Finseth recognized it as a great opportunity for a multitude of reasons.

“I’m taking Aviation Safety and Airline Management,” Liang said. “Taking both of these classes is going to help me double-major, since I need 15 credits each semester. I love traveling, and this is a study abroad program that won’t leave me feeling homesick.”

Jim Higgins

“The biggest thing for me was that I wouldn’t be delayed in flying,” Finseth said, who’s enrolled in the same courses with an additional two-credit Korean language course. “I didn’t want to be set back an entire semester to study abroad; and since I haven’t been to Korea before, why not?”

The program not only avails students the chance to go abroad, but it’s a rare opportunity for UND’s aviation faculty to teach outside of the U.S. When the exchange first began in 2009, Aviation Department Chair Jim Higgins went as a visiting professor.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “Our students are placed with people from around the world studying the same thing. All of us teaching those classes would approach it in a multi-disciplinary way, with multiple teams. There were a lot of group projects where students got to work with each other solving problems. It was a unique opportunity, and it’s a very successful program.”

Higgins characterized the classroom make-up as half KAU students, a quarter from the U.S., and the other quarter from countries in Europe and Asia. All of the courses in the program are taught in English, and in three-hour blocks. So students taking more than one course, like Liang and Finseth, will be in class most of the day.

“I’m also doing a Korean language course over the lunch hour,” Finseth said. “I’ve been short on a single humanities credit, so being able to take this course and have it transfer as general humanities credit is great.”

Condensing content

This year, Chris Cooper will be the faculty member going overseas to instruct at KAU, taking over for Associate Professor Alan Frazier, who taught the last two years. Maine, in the Study Abroad Office, is working to get UND faculty a guaranteed spot at KAU’s summer exchange.

Chris Cooper

Cooper recently finished his second year teaching in UND’s aviation department as assistant professor. As an alum who graduated before this type of opportunity existed, he’s excited for the students who get to make progress toward graduation abroad.

“When I came onboard and found out about this summer program, I was really interested,” he said. “My heritage is Korean and I’ve visited there, too. The programming offered there—not only for classes but opportunities to go to Korean Air and sites around Seoul—grabbed my attention.”

During the three weeks, students will go on tours of Incheon International Airport and Korean Air, as well as a city-wide tour of Seoul from KAU. Students in the program will also have a chance to apply for a month-long internship with Korean Air after completing courses at KAU.

Cooper has an idea of how to condense three credits to a three-week period, considering summer sessions at UND fit within six. He says the aviation safety course he teaches at UND will be modified for an international classroom at KAU – incorporating more aspects of security, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the business side of safety.

“We’ll have students in engineering, management, etc., as opposed to just pilots,” he said. “That will be an exciting opportunity to get a lot of different ideas from other students and other cultures.”

Cultural competence

The big value, to Cooper, is cultural competence – appreciating and understanding that there are other cultures, people and ways to see things that might be different from your own. In the U.S., especially in North Dakota, it’s easy to have a bubble.

“I want students to see and be aware of that bubble,” he said. “Even if you only fly domestically as a professional pilot, I don’t know how many times I’ve flown with a captain who came from another country to the United States for the opportunity to fly. Globalization is the reality both in the sense of the aviation industry, as well as human culture.”

Liang has only been as far as the Bahamas outside of the U.S., so she’s prepared for her world to get bigger. KAU is 10 minutes away from the heart of Seoul, by train, and she’s looked into the main attractions for tourists.

“I want to learn about Korean customs and culture,” she said when asked what she’d like to take away from the experience. “The U.S. probably has some weird things we do. It’s fun to compare and learn things about new cultures.”

Finseth, on the other hand, has been to more than a dozen countries both for work and leisure. In the military, he worked for the White House. Wherever the president went, he went, getting things set up in advance of state visits. Through his assignment, he became connected to flight as a career.

“The aviation community is somewhat small – people get to know each other pretty well,” he said. “Being able to work with people at KAU, you’ll bump into those people down the road, and that experience will set you apart as a professional.”