UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

Record numbers at ‘region’s biggest pop-up science museum’

Thousands from around the state toured UND’s Odegard School during Aerospace Community Day

A future air traffic controller dons his headset and starts vectoring aircraft in UND’s air-traffic-control-tower simulator. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

When you wake up not knowing how many people are going to attend your big public event that day, the early indicators count. So when Beth Bjerke glanced outside soon after the start of Aerospace Community Day on Saturday, she breathed a sigh of relief:

“The parking lot was full within the first hour,” said Bjerke, associate dean and professor at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Aerospace Community Day features many cut-outs such as this one, where a young person can pose in an aerospace-related scene. Photo courtesy of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

“Plus, we ran out of our 500 T-shirts pretty early on, and those are just for the little kids. And even though we have a lot of space both on campus and at the airport, both sites have been really bustling.

“I think this is our busiest year yet,” Bjerke said.

A popular attraction during Aerospace Community Day, UND’s Level 6 Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ-200) simulator helps Aerospace students transition from light twin aircraft to sophisticated regional jets. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

Courtney Olson, marketing, events, & project coordinator at the Aerospace School, agreed. The first Aerospace Community Day in 2018 drew perhaps 2,000 people, and the 2019 and 2020 events saw the numbers grow.

But something kicked in the public’s afterburners, because during this year’s event, attendance roared. “After talking with our team, we think we had more than 3,500 people this year,” Olson said.

Visitors to UND’s Aerospace Community Day lined up for the chance to fly mini-drone quadcopters through an obstacle course. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

To volunteers, sponsors and others: Many thanks

“It’s a lot of work to make this day happen, and it requires more than 250 volunteers to do it,” she continued.

“From our Dean’s Office staff to our faculty, students, flight instructors, flight operations support staff and student organization and flight teams, the day would not be possible without them. And at the end of the day, when we see how many people have toured our buildings and left many kudos and thank you’s, we know it’s all worth it.”

Volunteers and visitors to UND’s Aerospace Community Day released weather balloons, to the delight of all. Web screenshot, courtesy John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

As a 2018 story in UND Today described, “the concept of Community Day is simple: throw open the doors and immerse attendees in the full UND Aerospace experience, from aviation, flight operations and UAS to space studies, atmospheric sciences and sustainability.”

That means visitors can fly simulators, pilot drones, try on space suits, launch weather balloons, talk virtual aircraft down in the school’s Air Traffic Controller trainer, and climb into the cockpits and sit at the controls of UND’s real-life aircraft at the Grand Forks airport, among many other activities.

Flight simulators always are one of the biggest draws at UND’s Aerospace Community Day. Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

In other words, Aerospace Community Day is UND’s chance to thank the community by inviting people to learn more about and experience the Aerospace School’s amazing technology, Bjerke said.

“That’s why we call it the region’s biggest pop-up science museum,” she said. “We have hands-on exhibits in almost every room, and it’s so much fun to see how excited the children and their parents are.”

Event sponsors such as Rydell Cars and Cirrus Aircraft are among those who set up hands-on displays for UND’s Aerospace Community Day.Photo by Tom Dennis/UND Today.

Welcome, Class of 2035

Plus, there’s a good chance that some of those starry-eyed young people will wind up enrolling at the Aerospace School in a few years, Bjerke noted.

“I always say, it’s also our recruiting for the class of 2035,” she said. “It’s my hope that in five or 10 years, we’ll be seeing some of these students again.”

At the Grand Forks Airport, visitors could leave simulators behind and sit at the controls of UND’s real-world aircraft. Photo courtesy John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Besides the UND student and other volunteers, the event’s primary sponsors – which include Cirrus Aircraft, Rydell Cars, and SkyWest and Delta airlines – also deserve the University and region’s thanks, Bjerke said.

“We have such great industry support, and that means it really doesn’t cost us anything to put this on,” she said. “The sponsorships pay for a lot of our printed and other materials, and we’re thrilled that Delta pilots and others from the sponsors come here to take part.”

All things considered, it was a banner and wonderful event, Bjerke concluded. “What a fun day,” she said. “Busy but fun. I think I got 10,000 steps in by 11 a.m.!”