GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Among the nearly 1,500 receiving degrees from the University of North Dakota during spring commencement on Saturday will be the first graduates in the nation with degrees in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations.
“It’s truly the first and only kind of its major program in the country at this point,” said Kent Lovelace, chair of the aviation department at the UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. “These are the first graduates from anywhere in the country with a degree in UAS operations.”
The five students eligible for graduation are Christopher Burger, Ritzville, Wash.; Jeremy Duke, Everett, Wash.; Adam Julson, Flandreau, S.D.; Alexander Gustafson, Vashon Island, Wash.; and Brett Whalin, Rapid City, S.D. The commencement ceremony will be held at 1:30 p.m. in the Alerus Center at Grand Forks.
“Unmanned aircraft are having a profound impact on aerospace,” said Bruce Smith, dean of UND Aerospace. “We’re on the leading edge of UAS development. We now have 44 students signed up as majors and 78 students signed up for our UAS introductory course.”
Julson is excited about the opportunity to be part of an emerging aspect of aviation in which the sky is literally the limit.
“What attracted me is that it’s the next big thing,” he said. “You’re on the forefront of the unmanned portion of aviation.”
For Duke, who worked for 10 years in the auto body industry before coming to UND, the attraction was the potential to apply UAS technology to weather research, which is the career direction he hopes to pursue.
“I flew weather modification missions for a summer and could see the application,” he said.
All the UAS majors are finding great interest from potential employers, and some have already lined up jobs. The field is expected to explode when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opens airspace to civilian applications.