Driving on the UND campus along Columbia Road, the massive sign is hard to miss. The billboard, fastened to a wall of a campus parking ramp, notes that UND has had more than 100 players sign NHL contracts.

Certainly, it’s a point of pride and worthy of such promotion. After all, UND’s hockey program – with eight national titles, including one in 2016 – is among the nation’s elite.

Another sign, not as prominent but locally important nonetheless, touts another UND success story. Featured in the airports at Grand Forks and Fargo, the sign highlights UND’s aviation education program.

It declares: “13,131 pilots (and counting) earned their wings with us. The University of North Dakota is a world leader in aviation education.”

This city is proud of its hockey and successful athletics programs, including several teams that have competed in national playoffs in recent years. But the aviation program – widely considered among the nation’s best – should instill local pride, too. And the more the university and the city shouts it from the top of their lungs the better, since aviation training will be so important to the campus -- and the nation -- in the coming years.

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The Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook, released earlier this year, projects massive need for pilots, technicians and crew in the coming two decades. By 2038, Boeing predicts, there will be a need of 804,000 new civil aviation pilots.

“The demand will stem from a mix of fleet growth, retirements and attrition,” Boeing reports. “Meeting this strong demand will require a collective effort from across the global aviation industry. As several hundred thousand pilots and technicians reach retirement age over the next decade, educational outreach and career pathway programs will be essential to inspiring and recruiting the next generation of pilots.”

“Inspiring” and “recruiting.” Remember those words, because they are important blocks in the appropriate path forward for UND’s aviation school in the coming years.

Who, more than any other, can help as this potential crisis builds?

UND’s aviation programs.

As a page on the North Dakota University System website notes, “competition is fierce at UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences – but not between students. Instead, the competition is for students, between airlines and other aviation giants hoping to recruit the students as the next generation of pilots.”

So UND is doing marketing and outreach. It includes advertising with airlines; a billboard in the Twin Cities market; those signs at the Grand Forks and Fargo airports; marketing videos; online advertising; displays at various events, including an air show in Fargo, the Women in Aviation Conference, the Girls in Aviation Day in Minneapolis; and career expos and attendance at various national college fairs in places like Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Minneapolis.

UND knows what the future holds and appears on the path to take advantage, inspiring and recruiting students for this important and necessary trade.

It’s good to know, because as this worldwide pilot shortage builds, the solution exists at the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.