Students far and wide still flock to UND for some of the best aerospace instruction on the planet

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Students far and wide still flock to UND for some of the best aerospace instruction on the planet

Oh, she got by with a little help from!

And that included a big push out of her comfortable home in Hawaii to school in North Dakota.

For University of North Dakota aviation and air traffic control major Jerris Tagavilla, a native Hawaiian, that was a big—and unexpected—move.

"Basically, I wanted to stay home for college, but my mom knew I wanted to become a pilot without going into the military to do it," said Tagavilla, who also is minoring in biology. "So my mom looked around and discovered UND had a total aviation program without any military requirements, so here I am. My older sister, Jacey Tagavilla, also came here, and graduated with a major in Air Traffic Control in 2012."

For Tagavilla, the aviation bug hit hard when she got a free ride in an airplane at an air show at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

"It was for kids 10 and under, and the pilot did some loops and turns and showed us what G's were all about," said Tagavilla. "I felt so good up there, I was having so much fun that, when we landed, I told my parents that I wanted to become a pilot."

Her mother and father convinced her UND was a good move (they both visited her earlier this year for the Aerospace Awards and scholarships banquet).

"UND is an awesome experience, I've come to the understanding that if you're looking to get your foot in the door for the aviation industry, UND will give you the shoe to put on," said Tagavilla, who also took a different path after taking an introductory unmanned aircraft systems class.

"After my advisor suggested I should check it out, I decided to study more about UAS, and even built one—a 'quadcopter,' a four-propeller UAS—with a camera," she said. "I also took the aviation public safety course and went to a lecture about aerial firefighting given by a UND alumnus and figured that someday my knowledge of UAS might kick into that."

Tagavilla plans to graduate next year with degrees in commercial aviation, air traffic control and UAS operations.

She also was a part of a ground support group for this year's Air Race Classic team—three UND students who participated in this all-women air race.

Tagavilla already is mulling her options.

"It's never too early to start looking, so many doors are open," she said.

Sri Lanka – Malith Silva

There's all kinds of distance between Malith Silva's tropical home in Sri Lanka and his chosen college campus, UND—about 9,000 miles as the airliner flies. Or 20 hours in the air at today's speeds.

"I never imagined I'd travel to North Dakota," said Silva, an aviation student and instructor at UND Aerospace. "I was thinking about going to school in Australia at one point."

Then he ran the numbers after a conversation with his kin in Manitoba and a friend who already was at UND.

"UND definitely is an excellent deal compared with other aviation programs," said Silva, whose dad, captain of a ship that carries Sri Lankan tea exports, tried to convince him to go to sea. "I knew I wanted to see the world, but not from the bridge of a ship."

He figured aviation was a good choice—and he built an ambition to one day join Sri Lankan Airlines and become a captain of an intercontinental jet liner.

So he set his sights on UND—even though he'd been warned by his friends about winters up here.

"OK, I figured 'no big deal,' I'll take some warm clothes along," said Silva, who finished high school one week and was in North Dakota the next.

"The first thing I noticed is that people here are very easy to get along with—I got a lot of support from faculty, fellow students and other Sri Lankans at the UND International Center," Silva said. "The first few days of winter were OK, I thought the first snow I'd ever seen was beautiful—but no one can prepare you for the sustained weeks below zero. The coldest it gets at home is 80 degrees—above zero!"

Another challenge was the language, especially "tower speak", or directions from the air traffic controllers.

"I got through that, too," he said.

The study culture here is positive and encourages focus on the prize: the degree.

"Compared with where I'm from—the Colombo area, the capital city of Sri Lanka and a major south Asian metropolis—it's real quiet in Grand Forks, far fewer distractions," said Silva. "It's easy to get stuff done here. With the reasonable basic costs plus scholarships, and the supportive learning environment, I feel very fortunate to come here—I've learned so much, and I feel I'm getting very good value."

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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