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Dual credit, single purpose: Soaring imaginations

UND’s first dual-credit course provides high school students with bird’s-eye view of aviation careers

Students at Red River High School are able to try out flight simulators and learn the basics of aviation by enrolling in Aviation I, an elective long taught by UND Associate Professor Leslie Martin. This semester, UND provided students the opportunity to take the career and technical education course for dual credit – a first for the University. Photo courtesy of Leslie Martin.

Believe it or not, UND isn’t the only place in Grand Forks where you can find an “Introduction to Aviation” course.

Just visit Red River High School, where one classroom stands out with its selection of desk-mounted aircraft steering columns and throttle controls.

Since 2014, Associate Professor Leslie Martin has taught aviation year-round at the high school level, in addition to fulfilling her duties as an aviation department faculty member at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Leslie Martin

Until recently, Martin’s work between UND and Red River High School was connected in concept only. But this semester, the general aviation course she delivers as a career and technical education elective has developed into UND’s first dual-credit course offering – ever.

According to Janelle Kilgore, vice provost for strategic enrollment management, UND’s foray into offering college-level academic credit to high school students came about with recent approval at the state level to do so.

Such approval was granted with the understanding that the University wouldn’t offer courses already available from other institutions, such as Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, that have historically offered a variety of dual-credit courses.

“Aerospace is very specialized to UND, so we’re thrilled to offer this dual-credit course,” Kilgore said.

She further indicated that other courses are in the works, including one in American Indian Studies. UND is the only university in the state to offer that specific major.

“With Professor Martin already teaching the high school aviation course, it was a relatively easy lift to get that started,” Kilgore added. “We’re working on the logistics to make sure that students coming to UND for dual-credit have a great experience.”

Exploring more pathways for students

At Red River High School, the reason to start offering an aviation class was to expand the career and technical education opportunities available for students – to help them explore and start developing career pathways available in the region and nationwide, said Eric Ripley, executive director for career and technical education at Grand Forks Public Schools.

Eric Ripley

At the time of creating the course, Bismarck was home to the only other high school delivering an aviation elective in the state, Ripley said.

“We certainly felt that with UND, Grand Forks Air Force Base and even partners on the Minnesota side at Northland Community & Technical College, the presence of aviation would make a lot of sense for Grand Forks, too,” he said.

Surveys showed high student interest for the topic, and soon the search was on for a teacher.

Martin had been teaching professional development classes through UND, showing math and science teachers how to incorporate aviation topics into their classes – not far off from what she’ll be doing this summer on behalf of an FAA workforce development grant.

Ripley sat through one of the classes, spoke with Martin about the idea for the elective, and Martin later applied to teach the high school-level course.

“I got the position a couple of weeks before class started,” Martin recalled. “It was a bit of a scramble to make sure I had the appropriate teaching license.”

Intro to the industry

On a field trip to UND, Martin’s students took a spin on the air traffic control simulators. Each year, Martin works to develop field trips and tours that show students what they can do in aviation. Image courtesy of Leslie Martin.

Through the years, Martin has leveraged her connections at UND and in the regional aerospace industry to deliver a well-rounded perspective about aviation as a study, practice and industry. In addition to getting simulator stations set up in her classroom, including a cockpit simulator donated by UND, Martin has also made a point to take her students on field trips each year (pandemic notwithstanding).

“It’s a class available to sophomores, juniors and seniors, and my goal is to teach them about all aspects of aviation,” she said. “A lot of them come in thinking, ‘I want to be a pilot,’ which is great, and I do talk a lot about flight training. We practice maneuvers on simulators and talk about principles of flight. But I really just want them to have a fun class where they’re learning about the whole industry.”

On one recent excursion, Martin took students on a tour of UND’s air traffic control simulators and spent two days learning to use the equipment. Another time, the manager of GFK or Grand Forks International Airport spoke to the class about his job and what’s involved in running an airport.

Another big field trip that Martin likes to do near the end of the school year involves touring not only the Grand Forks airport, but also facilities near Hillsboro, N.D., along Interstate 29, as well as at Fargo Jet Center and Hector International Airport.

Between various guest speakers and real-world experiences, on top of the everyday curriculum, students get a 360-degree perspective throughout the year-long course.

“In the classroom, I’m also throwing in current events, scholarships, how to get a private pilot’s license and how to look into other career possibilities,” Martin said. “It’s not about whether they come to UND, or decide to become a pilot. It’s just an introduction: ‘Here’s what the industry is all about.’”

At the Hillsboro Municipal Airport, touring students saw the inner workings of aircraft maintenance and other operations at the airstrip situated along Interstate 29. Image courtesy of Leslie Martin.

New connections

Red River High School students who wanted to change their “Aviation I” enrollment to dual-credit had the opportunity to do so for the spring semester.

The change has required some restructuring, but Martin noted that Aviation I’s content was already on-par with what’s covered in UND’s Aviation 105 – the introductory course upon which the high school elective is based.

“Since this is so new, everyone is still in the same classroom,” Martin said. “They’ll all get the same assignments.”

Ripley said that the transition to dual credit for the course validates the quality of Grand Forks’ career and technical education opportunities for high school students. Partnering with a four-year institution for dual credit is a win-win when it comes to helping students see connections between high school and whatever is next for them, he added, whether that’s a degree from UND or another path to post-secondary success.

“Ultimately, I’m a huge believer in these types of agreements,” said Ripley of the new partnership with UND. “I’m appreciative for Professor Martin for delivering the course and for Associate Dean Elizabeth Bjerke, who has been a champion of this effort and has worked at the higher levels to push this through.”

Ready for the right space

And as the aviation course further develops, another burgeoning aspect of career and technical education in Grand Forks will change how it and other courses are delivered.

In recent weeks, the Career Impact Academy – a new physical location meant to deliver education experiences to the Grand Forks region – crossed an important milestone, receiving a $10 million match from the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education following a months-long fundraising effort.

According to the Grand Forks Herald, a collaborative partnership between area education, industry and business interests committed nearly $11 million in financial and in-kind contributions, resulting in the maximum state match. Since the formation of the Academy’s working group and leadership committees, UND has taken an active role in advancing the project and mapping its eventual programming.

Once the project is completed, the Career Impact Academy will likely be the home for the aviation course currently hosted by Red River High School, Ripley said.

“The current classroom is a former business education room, so it wasn’t really designed with aviation in mind,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can with the space, but our future ability to build the right space with the right design will help raise the profile of the course.

“And with the location just down the street from UND, it’s going to be a better space for serving out-of-town students and grow participation. Bringing over a somewhat established program to the Academy, with dual credit on the table, that’s huge.”

Ripley indicated that all parties are on the same page when it comes to UND offering dual credit courses where it best makes sense – allowing for regional technical colleges to continue their longstanding offerings for high school students.

“This example of aviation showcases that partnering with four-year research institutions can be done where it makes sense and fits,” Ripley remarked. “For example, offering an automotive dual-credit course wouldn’t make as much sense for UND as it does for Lake Region.

“We want to be strategic in making connections with UND that help our students make educated decisions on their next step after high school.”