UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND Vets2Wings students honored as program set to expand nationwide

Designed to ease America’s pilot shortage, Vets2Wings program helps UND veteran aviation students take flight

Group shot of Vets2Wings members
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and UND President Andy Armacost stand at the center of members of UND’s Vets2Wings program, at their celebratory lunch. Photo By Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

The Vets2Wings (V2W) program first piloted by UND Aerospace is poised to become a national program, one that’s meant to address the shortage of commercial airline pilots.

That news was one of the takeaways UND students in the V2W program heard at a recent luncheon event that celebrated their accomplishments over the academic year.

Vets2Wings is a cooperative agreement between UND and the Federal Aviation Administration to help U.S. military veterans pay for flight training costs that are not included in programs such as the GI Bill. The program aims to help veterans successfully transition to the airline workforce, and was started at UND in October 2022 after Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., secured the necessary funding.

Held in the Memorial Union on May 8, the event was attended by Hoeven; UND President Andy Armacost; Elizabeth Bjerke, associate dean of the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences; and more than 40 members of the V2W program.

At that event, Hoeven thanked Bjerke for her assistance in helping outline how a veteran’s program should function. He also expressed his gratitude to the V2W students for their service to the nation, and for preparing to serve again as pilots, a role that will address a critical workforce need for the nation.

“Thank you to all of you for being veterans and serving our country,” Hoeven said. “It’s so cool that, again, you’re going to serve our country as pilots, which we very much need.”

The American Aviator Act, which Hoeven introduced with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and is included in the FAA’s reauthorization legislation, is set to make V2W permanent through 2028, after which it can be renewed. That means aerospace schools across the U.S. can begin to offer this program to their veteran students, and that they have a working, UND-created blueprint that they can follow.

“In the case of Vets2Wings, we’ve got great veterans, all of you and others around the country, who are going to be able to go get that pilot’s license,” Hoeven said. “That’s a win. That’s a win for our great veterans for the service you provide in this country. It’s also a win for the country; we need great pilots.”

Andy Armacost
President Armacost speaks at the Vets2Wings end-of-semester- luncheon. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Celebrating Vets2Wings at UND

President Armacost, speaking before Hoeven, thanked him for his efforts to help make V2W a reality, and for his great friendship to UND. Armacost also congratulated the students who are in the program and those set to graduate from it.

“The end of the semester always marks amazing opportunities for recognition and celebration, and today is the day where we honor our participants in the Vets2wings program that was prototyped here at UND,” Armacost said. “You’re the first group in the nation to go through this program.”

Armacost continued: “Congratulations to all of you. We’re so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished, and to celebrate in your honor is just a real privilege.”

And V2W students have quite a bit to celebrate.

Since November 2022, 77 students have been involved in the program (five women and 72 men). In 2024, 10 students are set to graduate. Other metrics illustrate students’ dedication to the program:

  • Fall average GPA for V2W members stands at 3.54, with 10 students making the Dean’s List.
  • Students achieved a 96% average on FAA written exams.
  • From May 2023 to April 2024, students logged more than 4,700 total flight-training hours.
  • Slightly more than 80 students achieved required certifications and ratings, including instrument ratings, commercial pilot certifications and flight instructor certifications. Some students achieved multiple ratings.
V2W student
V2W student Isaac Goedtke listens to speakers at the V2W celebratory lunch. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

One of those students being honored Wednesday was senior Isaac Goedtke, a member of the 119th Wing Air National Guard in Fargo. Goedtke said being in the program relieves a lot of stress by helping him manage how he pays for his flight training. He also said it creates an atmosphere conducive to studying.

“This program is a blessing, and I am so fortunate to be a part of it,” he said. “I think everybody here will tell you the same thing.”

Anna Heath, also from the 119th Wing in Fargo, agreed, and said the program takes the stress of financing her education off her plate. She also mentioned that going through the V2W program introduced her to career options she wasn’t aware of by setting up meetings with industry insiders.

“UND and Vets2Wings have opened up a lot more doors than I thought there were,” Heath said.

Anna Heath
V2W student Anna Heath said the UND veteran’s program opened up new doors for her. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

And opening those doors, it turns out, is all done by design. Jason Evans, assistant professor of aviation and one of the V2W program administrators, speaking at the event, said UND Aerospace leaders wanted to create a supportive environment for veteran students. That meant making use of a mentorship-style atmosphere, and setting up industry roundtables, bringing in military speakers. It also means they sometimes get together just to have fun and hang out.

“In the military, you’re used to that mentorship model, you want to take care of each other,” Evans said. “We’ve really seen that take place in this program. We see the older students and the students who are further along in the program mentor the more junior students.”

Dozens of students were then recognized for their accomplishments, such as achieving certain ratings or becoming Certified Flight Instructors. One by one, they were called to the front of the group to shake hands with Hoeven and receive a celebratory coin or pin.

Bjerke, associate dean of Aerospace, said soon-to-be graduates are always welcome to return to UND to attend events and speak with incoming V2W members. Apropos of the inclusive style of V2W at UND, she also asked students to feel free to submit any ideas they might have for the future of the program.

“Make sure, if you have ideas for going into next year, reach out and let us know,” she said.

Bjerke also made sure to thank all the member of the V2W administrative team, including Evans (Co-PI of the cooperative agreement with the FAA); Andrew Frelich, assistant director of Veteran and Military Services; Alexa Vilven, aerospace accountant; Paula Bruse, chief flight instructor; and Kirsten Pratt, aerospace success center adviser.

Wesley Mattson and Sen. hoeven
Wesley Mattson, who was among dozens of students recognized at the celebratory event, receives a challenge coin from Sen. Hoeven. Looking on at the right is Elizabeth Bjerke, associate dean of Aerospace. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.