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Published May 13, 2011, 06:15 AM

First Students in Nation With Unmanned Aircraft Systems Degree Graduate UND Saturday

Among the graduates at the University of North Dakota on Saturday will be five students who UND says will become the first in the nation to earn degrees in unmanned aircraft systems operations.

By: Associated Press, WDAZ

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Five students set to graduate from the University of North Dakota will be the first in the nation to earn degrees in unmanned aircraft systems operations, university officials say.

"It's truly the first and only kind of its major program in the country at this point," Kent Lovelace, chairman of the aviation department at UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, said Thursday. "These are the first graduates from anywhere in the country with a degree in UAS operations."

The five students eligible for graduation Saturday are Christopher Burger, of Ritzville, Wash.; Jeremy Duke, of Everett, Wash.; Alexander Gustafson, of Vashon Island, Wash.; Adam Julson, of Flandreau, S.D.; and Brett Whalin, of Rapid City, S.D.

"It's a huge honor and privilege to be among the first graduates," Gustafson said. "Most companies are excited to find out that there are students coming out of college with degrees in UAS."

UND aims to become a major unmanned aircraft training and research center. The effort coincides with new Predator and Global Hawk drone missions at Grand Forks Air Force Base. The university and the Air Force earlier this year signed a lease agreement on a new training center at the base that should be ready this summer.

"Unmanned aircraft are having a profound impact on aerospace," said UND Aerospace Dean Bruce Smith. "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."

UND, which is known for having one of the nation's top flight schools, in the fall of 2009 launched its program for a bachelor's degree in aeronautics with a major in UAS operations. It includes courses in the systems of unmanned aircraft, UAS ground systems, UAS communications and telemetry, and UAS remote sensing.

"We spent a lot of time and effort putting this program together because there was no model for it," said associate professor Ben Trapnell. "We had to bridge the gap between engineers and pilots because our hope is that our graduates from this program will become the leaders in an emerging civil UAS industry. They need to have a broad perspective and the ability to expand the base of knowledge we provide."

Burger started at UND as a commercial aviation major but jumped at the opportunity to be in the first class of students to graduate with a degree in UAS operations.

"I figured that UAS was definitely going to be a major portion of the aviation industry in the future," he said. "Automation is the direction everything is moving. Getting in at the beginning seemed like a great opportunity."

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