UND UAS Degree First To Be Accredited Under New AABI Criteria

Paul Lindseth has had a lot to celebrate during his first year at the helm of UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences (JDOSAS).

As dean, he’s seen the dedication of the state-of-the-art Robin Hall, a record number of student flight hours logged, and this week – another first.

On July 21, the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) voted to grant accreditation to UND’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) degree, making it the first UAS degree program accredited by AABI under newly established UAS criteria. Accreditations for the JDOSAS’s Commercial Aviation and Air Traffic Management degrees were also reaffirmed, as they have been since AABI was established in 1992.

“It’s the tradition of the Odegard School to push the envelope in making sure we are keeping up with societal needs as far as what’s going on in the UAS industry,” Lindseth said. “It speaks to our history – a tradition of excellence, the entrepreneurial spirit and leading the collegiate environment in degree programs. It’s pretty exciting.”

“We have had many firsts in our department,” said Aviation Department Chair Jim Higgins. “We were the first in the country to start an undergraduate UAS program. Now we are the first UAS program to become accredited under the new criteria. We see tremendous growth ahead in the department, and with that growth will come continued opportunities for our students.”

Writing the rules

As one of the country’s leaders in UAS education, UND was an essential player in helping AABI craft the blueprint for the curriculum, safety, and experiential learning standards of this quickly-evolving field. Mark Dusenbury, assistant chair of assessment for UND Aviation, co-chaired the committee that formulated AABI’s new UAS accreditation criteria.

“We went through getting feedback from industry and other institutions,” Dusenbury said. “We looked at, historically, what criteria had been out there and what had been done in other realms – not UAS – and tried to figure out how we would create criteria to measure a program.”

UND Assistant Chair of UAS Paul Snyder says the accreditation process is a chance to look at the program and make sure it is aligned with the current needs of the industry. He said a portion of the AABI’s site visit this year was a conversation with industry leaders about future challenges.

“When you’re up front, you have an opportunity to impact what the rules and policies are, and be a part of those solutions,” he said. “This accreditation relates back to the quality that we want our students to know they’ll be getting when they come here, and that’s not something that everybody’s going to have. In fact, nobody has it, because we’re the first,” he added with a smile.

Well-rounded aviators

AABI’s accreditation criteria also includes standards regarding a strong liberal arts foundation for graduates, which ties directly into the first goal of the One UND Strategic Plan. Higgins says his department works hard to provide an outstanding learning experience, but flight skills are only the start.

“We know the aviation leaders of tomorrow will have to interact and understand the world in ways that far exceed a simple technical outlook,” Higgins said. “Our students will need critical thinking skills, the ability to work effectively within teams, the ability to work with people from different backgrounds and cultures, and the wisdom to continually improve themselves through lifelong learning.”

The interdisciplinary potential of UAS is one thing Snyder says he loves most about his field – and UND creates a perfect environment for students to leverage a tool that can be used to solve problems in engineering, space studies, biology and beyond.

“Now that we’ve been accredited, industry and students know we have the breadth of knowledge to provide the quality of education needed, which plays well into our future success,” he said.

Accreditation importance

Along with the accreditation of JDOSAS’s UAS, Commercial Aviation and Air Traffic Management degrees, the College of Business and Public Administration (CoBPA) was recently reaccredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), ranking it in the top 5 percent of the world’s business schools. UND’s Aviation Management and Airport Management degrees fall under that accreditation.

“When it comes to accredited programs in the professions, it really demonstrates to society the willingness of a program to expose themselves to external opinions to determine whether or not they are meeting the standards set by their colleagues at other universities,” Lindseth said.

And in case of the standards set for the future of aviation, namely those of the unmanned industry, UND is not only meeting them, but setting them.

“John D. Odegard once made a statement – ‘First, we’ll be best. Then we’ll be first.’ I love that statement,” Snyder said. “We have that quality, so when it came time for this criteria to be met, we were in the right position to meet it, and to be first.”

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