High standards hallmark pact with FedEx Express
Student-pilot scholarship program supports future flight instructors at nation’s top aviation schools
It’s nearly December. But the 50th anniversary of UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences has lost little in the way of celebratory momentum.
For Dean Paul Lindseth, last Friday, marked another exciting announcement for the prestigious flight school — a new scholarship partnership with FedEx Express.
“It is a special and historic day for the University of North Dakota and UND Aerospace,” he said.
The FedEx Purple Runway Aviation Scholarship Program will provide funding to students completing training as certified flight instructors. It’s also designed to support those earning their instrument and multi-engine instruction ratings.
Highlighting the occasion was a larger-than-life check written out to the school for $500,000. That amount will fund five years of scholarships targeted specifically to those becoming flight instructors.
Kent Lovelace, professor and director of aviation industry relations, was on the forefront of bringing this partnership to UND. He says its unique quality could be a trend-setter for an industry in need of fresh faces.
“I’ve been at the University for 40 years and this is the first gift from an airline given as scholarships to students,” Lovelace said. “The impact of this will be huge for our aviation program and our students. There is a nationwide shortage of flight instructors; this generous gift will help create new instructors who will in turn train future aviators.”
Representing FedEx Express was Vice President of Flight Operations Tim Leonard — a UND alum and native of Dunseith, N.D.
He said he was excited to be back at his alma mater, which he hasn’t visited since graduating in 1987 with a bachelor of science in aeronautical studies and an associate of arts in professional flight.
From the top floor of UND Aerospace’s administrative building at Grand Forks International Airport, Leonard reflected on his time with the University.
“UND gave me an incredible foundation upon which to build,” Leonard told UND Today. “I learned to work hard, be prepared and put in that extra effort. I took those skillsets everywhere I went and they’ve been the basis of my success.”
Leonard posited the scholarship program as simply a means of giving back to the aviation industry, a crucial element of FedEx’s worldwide business. They operate in 225 countries and territories with the help of 425,000 employees.
“One of the greatest resources that the aviation program has today is qualified instructors,” he said. “Anything we can do to foster that means they can produce new aviators, technicians, engineers, and that makes the aviation business much stronger, which is good for FedEx.”
Leonard made good use of his time back in Grand Forks, visiting classes throughout the day about the new partnership. He had the Arthur P. Anderson Atmospherium over capacity with 200-plus students and faculty on Friday afternoon.
Speaking to students made him think of when he sat in the same classrooms 31 years ago, unsure of where life would take him.
“I didn’t have a plan, but I knew I had a great foundation and education,” he said. “I knew if I went out and worked hard, I could create opportunities for myself. That’s by far what I’m most grateful for with my education from UND. It’s been a special treat to be here.”
The Purple Runway Scholarship Program extends to seven schools in the U.S., mostly in proximity of FedEx Express’s Memphis, Tenn., headquarters.
The University of North Dakota appears to be a geographic anomaly, but for all the right reasons.
“We picked UND because they have the highest standard in aviation excellence,” Leonard said. “That’s recognized not just by FedEx but by the industry.”
By the nature of scholarships, the funding provided by FedEx isn’t conditional. Students receiving monies aren’t obligated to sign a contract with FedEx Express or any other organization; the purpose is to ensure an education.
Leonard expressed the need for the country to produce an experienced and qualified citizenry. With a robust education, graduates can assist an array of industries and essential agencies. They want more people in the world reflecting FedEx’s gold standard of hard work and success.
Months in making
Also helping celebrate the occasion were Aviation Department Chair Jim Higgins, Assistant Chief Flight Instructor Sebastien Joubert, Associate Dean Elizabeth Bjerke and Dan Muus, vice president of development, leadership gifts at UND’s Alumni Association and Foundation.
“The number one obstacle we have in getting people their aviation education is the funding to do so,” Higgins said. “FedEx was the first to step up and say they can help with that. It’s more than just money, as it makes a career available that might not have been beforehand.”
“The instructors are the bread and butter of the aviation industry,” Joubert said, having prior experience as an intern at FedEx’s Flight Operations. “If you don’t have the instructors or have support for them, we can’t make pilots. To have the support of such a large and reputable company is huge.”
Lovelace has been working with FedEx since May to bring scholarships to UND. Last month, he went to their Memphis World hub where the program was first announced and was impressed with the site.
“Anyone who wants to see an amazing process in place could watch them sort everything they fly in any given day,” he said, adding he’s been there on more than one occasion for research collaborations. “This could be an opportunity for more students to be more aware of careers around FedEx.”
Bjerke was excited to see this partnership come to fruition. She says the scholarships are crucial support for the hands-on flight training students receive at UND.
“As our nation faces a critical pilot shortage, this generous gift from FedEx Express to financially support our students is critical to our continued success in training the next generation of professional aviators,” she said.