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Collaboration with GE Digital opens doors for UND Aerospace students

UND’s Brandon Wild (left), associate professor of aviation, and Ryan Guthridge, assistant professor of aviation, stand in front of a banner representing UND’s collaboration with GE Digital for data-analytics technology and training. The banner is located in the Annette Klosterman Safety & Data Analytics Lab at UND. Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Picture this entry on the resume of a newly graduated aviation data analyst: “Led a team that used data and advanced analytics – in partnership with airline engineers – to predict required maintenance, evaluate safety risks, and improve sustainable practices in commercial airline operations.”

That’s the kind of experience Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences students are garnering, thanks in part to an ongoing collaboration between the school and GE Digital.

UND’s Aviation Safety degree offers major and minor programs in Aviation Safety and Operations. Key classes in both programs take place in the Annette Klosterman Safety and Data Analytics Lab, where students use data provided by airline partners to solve real-world safety, maintenance and other problems.

And those classes, in turn, stand on the foundation of UND’s partnership with GE Digital. A subsidiary of General Electric, GE Digital provides software and Industrial Internet of Things services to companies, “helping industry work better,” as the company’s LinkedIn page says.

At UND, “our relationship with GE Digital provides us with our capability to provide a world-class education,” said Ryan Guthridge, assistant professor of aviation at the University. “That means the software, the expertise, the industry connections that have really allowed this program to thrive.

“In other words, we’ve set up the degree program, but this collaboration has unlocked possibilities for students far beyond what we would have been able to do without GE Digital.”

For example, UND and GE Digital now have established America’s first university mentorship program for aviation data analysis students. Through the program, UND has hired two Aviation Safety and Operations students as data analytic associates, Guthridge said. The students will work not only as assistants in UND’s advanced data-analysis classes, but also in tandem with GE Digital and other industry partners, including Delta Air Lines .

“In other words, the associates are the bridge between our partners’ programs and ours,” Guthridge said. “The students are matched or paired with a data engineer at GE Digital, who works with them to boost their skills in data analytics. In turn, the students provide GE Digital with their own expertise regarding how University fleets operate and how our students are using the software.

“So these students are really getting a front-row seat as to what’s going on in the industry.”

“Safety is a key component of the future of flight — and software is a key component of achieving it,” said Andrew Coleman, General Manager for GE Digital’s Aviation Software business. “But it’s not enough to just have the software. You have to have people that actually know how to use it. That’s why programs like this one are so important. Giving rising students the opportunity to get hands-on experience while they’re still in school is not only invaluable to them, it’s invaluable to the aviation industry, too.”

High demand

The exceptional usefulness of modern data analytics to the aviation industry means skilled data analysts are in high demand. That’s reflected in the growth of the Aviation Safety and Operations program at UND. In the fall of 2021, for example, the program totaled 50 students (44 majors and six minors or double-majors), while the fall of 2022 saw 112 students (70 majors and 42 minors or double-majors).

In other words, enrollment had more than doubled in only a year.

“We used to offer AVIT 412, Aviation Safety Analysis, once a year and only in the spring,” Guthridge said. “More recently, we’re offering three sections per semester, so six sections a year. That reflects both the growth of the program and the demand students are expressing to take the class.”

With that in mind, UND Aerospace has created a Future of Flight Safety Scholarship and will offer it starting this year. The school describes the scholarship as follows:

“This scholarship will be given to an Undergraduate student who is currently enrolled in the Aviation Safety and Operations degree program. Through research or in-class experiential learning, the student will have familiarity in using GE Digital’s Flight Analytics software for the purposes of Aviation Safety and Operational data analysis.

“The student must be a Junior or Senior and pursuing a career in Aviation Safety, Operations, or Data Analytics.”

The first scholarship will be awarded during UND Aerospace’s Aviation Family Weekend (April 20-23), and will be for the fall semester of 2023, said Jonathan Gehrke, senior director of development for the School of Aerospace at the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

“This scholarship basically is a thank-you for and a recognition of our collaboration with GE Digital,” Gehrke said. “With the relationship in place, UND is leading the way among universities, not only in our use of robust data analytics to improve our own flight operations but also in our relationships with industry.”

Thanks to those relationships, UND students actually are using commercial airlines’ own data streams to solve real-word safety, maintenance and other problems for those airlines, Gehrke stressed.

“We are doing cutting-edge research here as well as performing analytics for one of our primary markets, which is the commercial airline industry. So our students not only learn how to analyze data, they also make connections with industry and analyze real aircraft data to make an impact on aviation safety. It’s just a fantastic opportunity.”