By Brandi Jewett
It was hard to tell whose smile stretched the farthest Tuesday among supporters at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Robin Hall, UND’s latest aerospace building.
Larry Martin, chairman of the UND Aerospace Foundation Board of Directors, surmised that it would have belonged to the late John Odegard, the namesake and founder of the university’s school of aerospace sciences.
“If John were with us today, his smile would be as wide as this room,” Martin said, standing in the first floor commons of the new 66,000-square-foot building.
Odegard likely would have had competition from Si Robin and Mary “Betty” Bazar-Robin, husband-and-wife business partners who were major donors behind the hall and were on hand to cut a ceremonial ribbon to mark its official opening. The pair operate Sensor Systems, aerospace antenna manufacturing company that employs about 300 people in Chatsworth, Calif.
Named in their honor, Robin Hall will serve as home to a research facility for unmanned aircraft systems and other aerospace fields.
Unmanned aircraft education and research have expanded at the university in recent years, and school and state leaders have said the building is needed to keep up with the growth.
“Robin Hall is the latest milestone in our journey to be the absolute leader in terms of unmanned aviation in the country,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Chuck Pineo, CEO of the UND Aerospace Foundation, which has overseen construction of Robin Hall, welcomed guests and invited them to explore the facility. Inside its walls are classrooms and training areas containing space for indoor flights and simulators.
“From the beginning, Robin Hall has been designed as a space for students,” Pineo said.
The building has been under construction for the past two years on the west end of UND’s campus. Similar in appearance to the surrounding aerospace facilities, Robin Hall boasts a defining characteristic—a 125-foot glass tower rising from its base.
The facility’s creation was paid for largely by private donations from prominent figures in the aviation industry.
Among its benefactors are the Robins, Clay Lacy, Joe Clark—who were present for the ceremony—and James Ray. The latter three all founded or invested in various aviation enterprises.
The donors will remain part of Robin Hall, their faces appearing on a legacy wall on the building’s first floor.
Also covering part of the nearly $22 million price tag for the building is $1.5 million in funding from the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education Challenge Fund.
The building’s main donors are not UND alumni, but university leaders noted the success of the aerospace school attracted their generosity. The school has seen tremendous growth since its founding in 1968, growing from 12 students to serving more than 1,500 each year.
In the field of unmanned aircraft, UND was the first in the U.S. to offer an undergraduate degree in the technology. That academic program is housed within the Center for UAS Research, Education and Training, which also seeks to promote partnerships between private industry and researchers in the field.
That mission will continue to expand with a new state-of-the-art facility such as Robin Hall.
“This place serves not only to inspire, educate and explore possibilities to bring in private sector investment to our little state, but so we can discover things for the good of all man, for the country, world and our universe,” Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told the ceremony audience.
Continued excellence also is predicted by UND President Mark Kennedy, who acknowledged the university proudly celebrates the success of its men’s hockey team as national champions, but the strides made by the aerospace school could be put in a similar context.
“We were the national champions when it comes to aerospace education last year, and the year before and the year before that,” Kennedy said. “The important thing about this gift is it’s going to help us be the national champions in aerospace education, this year, next year and the year beyond that.”