Classroom in the sky provides students ‘unique’ opportunities

Shayla Waugh

Shayla Waugh

For five years, students in the aviation program at SDSU have been taking learning out of the classroom and into the sky.

The program, which is offered through the College of Education and Counseling, provides a degree in career technical education with a specialization in aviation education.

The aviation program at SDSU remains the only program of its type offered in South Dakota.

Ryan Phillips, assistant professor in the aviation program, said there are about 100 students currently enrolled in the program.

All of the course flight is completed at Big Sioux Aviation in Brookings. The academic course work is completed on campus. He said students are usually in the air about two to three times a week and usually graduate with 250 to 300 hours of flight time.

“One thing that makes this program unique is that our students start flying in their first semester as freshmen,” Phillips said. “The students also have the potential to be a flight instructor while still finishing their academic courses, so they can teach and get paid while still in college.”

While students will graduate with a degree in aviation education, there is the possibility of moving into commercial flight, Phillips said. He said with the degree, graduates are able to build up enough flight hours to become a commercial pilot through teaching.

Although obtaining an aviation education degree through the SDSU program will cost a student $32,000 to $34,000 in lab fees on top of the standard tuition, the department offers financial aid to cut costs for those going into the program, Phillips said.

The department is currently hoping to expand the program by adding more degrees and also by implementing an aviation maintenance program, Phillips said.

“Right now we are trying to get a flight training device for the students, which is basically a flight simulator,” Phillips said. “Pushing enrollment up to 150 students would be ideal as well.”

Cody Christensen, who is majoring in career and technical education with a specialization in aviation education, will graduate from the program this year. He is currently a flight instructor in the program where he teaches private, instrument and commercial students.

“I think the department has the base to be a great program. We have our own niche in aviation and I feel things are happening right now to make it one of the best programs in the nation,” said Christensen.

Christensen said he has always had a passion to fly and be involved with airplanes. He plans to start his masters courses next semester and in the future said he wants to be involved with the corporate side of aviation.

“I think students should become involved with the aviation program here at State because what better classroom is there than one that can go wherever you want to?” Christensen said. “We have had students in the program travel throughout USA. Wouldn’t it be fun to have the ability to fly you and some friends to Cancun for spring break?”