GRAND FORKS-The University of North Dakota is partnering with a national airliner to help students get on the fast-track to flying a Boeing 737 across the world.

Sun Country Airlines, a Twin Cities-based airline, announced Monday, Oct. 22, a partnership with UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences to offer commercial aviation students employment prior to graduation through a new program known as the Sun Country Bridge Program.

The program gives students an opportunity to sign with Sun Country while they are still in school, Sun Country spokesperson Jessica Wheeler said. Going straight to a national carrier like Sun Country means students will have the chance to fly international routes shortly after graduation.

Students in UND's aviation program can apply for the program their freshman year, Wheeler said.

"Quality training is a top priority for us," Sun Country Airlines Chief Operating Officer John Spanjers said in a statement. "We're excited to work with a school that has long been known for its outstanding aviation program. Having the opportunity to meet and mentor students early on in their career sets the foundation for their long-term success."

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The school announced similar partnerships with Delta and United Airlines earlier this year, but this agreement is different because it offers students a direct plan to be able to fly a 737 shortly after graduation, Jeremy Roesler, chief flight instructor at UND, said.

As part of the agreement, eligible students will be required to complete their flight hours at UND. These hours often are accrued when students become paid flight instructors for the school, which means UND's aviation department will benefit from more experienced flight instructors, Elizabeth Bjerke, UND Aerospace associate dean, said. She said the additional 500 or so hours that the instructors will be required to complete will take about a year, which is about twice as long as flight instructors typically stay with the program.

"Staying here helps out our existing students because we're retaining more experienced flight instructors and then Sun Country will be getting an experienced person for themselves, so it's a double win," Roesler said.

Sun Country also has a number of high-ranking individuals who are UND alumni, Bjerke said, which also makes the partnership special.

The partnerships with Sun Country, United and Delta are a "testament" to the quality of UND's education, Bjerke said.

Joseph Restifo, senior director of operations at Sun Country, said the company decided to partner with UND because of the school's "top-notch" curriculum and the high-quality pilots the school produces.

"UND really does have a world-renowned program," he said.

The agreement goes into effect immediately, according to a UND news release. Student interviews will take place on the UND campus through the career counseling offices when there are openings in the Sun Country Bridge Program.

"This partnership is a big win for us," Paul Lindseth, dean of the Odegard School, said in a statement. "We're thrilled to be able to tell our students about this opportunity and help them secure employment with one of the nation's top airlines."