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Flying high this summer

Remember watching “The Jetsons” and seeing the kids “delivered” to school via spaceship? Well, flash forward to 2018 and we have the technology to build and operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), better known as drones, but we don’t have a trained workforce to operate them.

That is where Tidewater Community College professors Judy Gill and Eric Beaver come in. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation, administered by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, the pair participated in the Geospatial Technician Education-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (GeoTEd-UAS) project.

GeoTEd-UAS is a statewide partnership to develop the UAS workforce through new career pathways and faculty training for professors at Virginia’s Community Colleges. More than 20 faculty participated this year.

This is the second year of training for Gill and Beaver, who earned their Federal Aviation Administration’s UAS Pilot License before attending this year. Gill, who teaches math, and Beaver, who teaches mechatronics, spent a week planning and flying missions, collecting and processing data and learning to write reports on findings.

They also reviewed federal and state regulations, learned about repairing and maintaining vehicles and discussed integrating student service-learning projects into college pathways.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to bring back to TCC what we learned and to share that knowledge with our students. We see the necessity for this type of training across many disciplines,” Gill said.

Gill and Beaver will now work with TCC’s curriculum committee to develop courses for UAS, a rapidly growing technology. In fact, the college may eventually launch a career studies certificate in UAS.

“As drones continue to become more widely used, the development, repair, programming and building of these devices will require trained technicians with a mechatronics background,” said Beaver. “Familiarity with UAS is going to be a required skill for the technological workforce of 2020, or even sooner.”

Other areas of use for drone training across disciplines may include horticulture, criminal justice, civil engineering technology and photography.