BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — A new program is taking flight in South Dakota State University’s Aviation Department.

SDSU is partnering with Sun Country airlines Pilot Bridge Program, giving aviation students the chance to apply for jobs with the company while they are still in school. If the students pass the interview process, they are able to complete a three-month pilot training program and will then be eligible for full-time employment with the airline.

Aviation students Naested Smit and Hadden Robinson have dreamed of becoming pilots for a long time. Now, they may make that dream come true sooner than they imagined thanks to the new pilot bridge program.

“It really helps advance students into the aviation industry, jump start that career into that career, skip the regional airlines and get into that 737 really early which is a great opportunity most people don’t get,” said Smit.

“It really wasn’t something I was expecting, this partnership very much excites me knowing that we have an opportunity to go to a larger airline, rather than kind of having to walk our way up to that point,” said Robinson.

This is the first airline partnership for the university.

“Typically, in the past our students have gone just from graduating to flight instructor, then to maybe a smaller, regional airline and then this is that next step, that bigger level airline that they can jump straight into after graduating, which is a really big deal for our students,” said Maria Julius, Program Coordinator for SDSU Aviation.

Sun Country launched this program two years ago and has already led to several hires. SDSU is the third university to take part.

“Honestly, it’s been amazing. The talent that comes out of colleges and universities is some of the highest quality that we’ve seen and the 20 that we’ve hired are now pilots for us at sun country, so it’s been great,” said Julie Falk, senior manager of pilot hiring for Sun Country Airlines.

Taking the SDSU Aviation Program to new heights.

“Everything we do here at SDSU is geared towards that airline career. We train in these small planes here, but we train for the big planes, we train for the airlines and from day one here that’s really emphasized that we are not training for these small planes, we are training for the big ones, for the airlines, and for our career,” said Smit.

This year, SDSU welcomed its largest class of aviation students ever and now has around 200 students enrolled in the program. They are also in the process of building a brand new airplane hangar, which is expected to open at the end of October.