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Area children experience ‘Miracle at Robin Hall’

Event offers “great opportunity for UND Aerospace to interact with, educate and support” the region

From left, UND students Michael Huber, Jon DeLone, and Mikaila Gillis hand out gifts to the children at the ‘Miracle at Robin Hall’ event in December. Photo courtesy of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

By Mackinney Supola

Last month, the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences hosted its first “Miracle at Robin Hall” event. The event was organized by the UND student organization AESOP, or Aviation Education Student Outreach Program.

“We wanted to give back to our community, and we came up with an idea for a holiday event,” said AESOP President Mikaila Gillis.

The goal of this event was to be both educational and enjoyable. With that in mind, AESOP partnered with Red River Valley Community Action to host an event in which children from the Grand Forks area could spend an afternoon learning about aviation while also celebrating the holiday season.

Between late November and early December, AESOP called upon the UND community to donate gifts or the money to buy them. Thanks to the community’s generosity, more than 100 gifts were collected or purchased for the children who’d be attending the event.

An assortment of the gifts – Aerospace students had wrapped some of them in aviation sectional maps – can be seen in the photos accompanying this story.

Aerospace students wrapped some of the gifts (which were collected for children the Miracle at Robin Hall event) in aviation sectional maps. Photo courtesy of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Hands-on learning

On the day of the event, there were multiple activity stations set up in UND’s aviation buildings. The activities included paper airplane making, helicopter games, an ornament decorating station, Air Traffic Control bingo and a hot chocolate bar.

In addition, two of UND’s flight simulators were operated throughout the day, allowing the visiting youngsters to fly the airplanes. Two of UND’s Certified Flight Instructors, Joshua Watanabe and Sean Bates, volunteered their time to operate the flight simulators.

“My favorite part of the day was watching the kids’ faces light up as their paper airplanes flew for the first time, as many of the young people had never made one before,” said Devin Graves, a UND student.

Pictured are UND student volunteers on Dec. 10, 2022, in Robin Hall. Included are members of the Aviation Education Student Outreach Program as well as members of the UND Helicopter Association. Photo courtesy of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

A Personal Connection

Gillis, the AESOP president, agreed. “When I was a kid, I was a part of programs that were similar to this one,” she said. “For me, one thing about aviation that is super inspiring is how much pilots, air traffic controllers and others are willing to share to create that spark in a young person.”

Gillis noted that this passion was something she shared with many club members as well. “We wanted to create a magical experience for young people and maybe spark a new passion in them, very similar to how a lot of the club members became involved in aviation,” she said.

Sonja Karner, also a UND student, spoke highly of the work Gillis has done. “She is such a humble girl, but she also worked so hard to create this event while working two jobs, taking a full course load and continuing her flight training,” Karner said.

“ ‘Miracle at Robin Hall’ was a great opportunity for UND Aerospace to interact with, educate, and support our greater community in Grand Forks and other neighboring towns,” Karner continued.

Gifts were given based on the children’s age and interests. Any children who were unable to attend the event had their gifts delivered by hand by volunteers from UND and Red River Valley Community Action.

Sonja Karner, a UND student and member of the UND Helicopter Association, plays a helicopter game with a child attending the miracle at Robin Hall event. Photo courtesy of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Thank you, UND

“The people who came to this event are our neighbors, and being able to bring them here and show them what we do was really cool,” Gillis said. “We did our best to show that we’re welcoming and we want to see the kids and parents in this community thrive.”

AESOP wants to thank UND and its aerospace community, without whom the event would not have been possible, Gillis said.

Mackinney Supola

About the author:

A certified flight instructor, Mackinney Supola is working toward bachelor’s degrees in Commercial Aviation and Communications at UND. She’s currently a marketing intern in the Dean’s Office at the University’s Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.