Reaching new heights

STEM Academy flying high after drones added to offerings

Photo submitted to Times Observer Warren Area High School junior Aidan Zdarko gets a drone lesson from Harrisburg University Director of the Center for Applied Environmental and Geospatial Technology Craig Lewis.

The Warren County School District STEM Academy is flying high after a visit from Harrisburg University.

The academy added numerous drones and drone capabilities to its offering. But, advanced technological equipment wasn’t all that came on the visit.

“When a trio of representatives form Harrisburg University visited the STEM Academy on March 24, they brought more than just drones,” STEM Facilitator Joe McClellan said. “They brought expanded class and certification opportunities.”

A “College in the High School” (CHS) agreement between the academy and the university allows students to earn college credits by taking HU’s Remote Pilot Certification and Applications course.

“This is a new partnership as of this year,” McClellan said. “This CHS agreement drastically reduces the cost of college credits and many college accept transfer credits, enabling students to apply those to another college they may attend.”

“With this being the first year Warren County STEM Academy and Harrisburg University have an educational agreement to offer College in the High School programming, it is a great opportunity for Warren County students to engage with college-level material in their high school years,” HU Director of Secondary Services Alexander Gibson said. “High School students who successfully complete some dual enrollment courses during their high school years are more likely to continue their education, either by earning an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. It is a great opportunity for students to lean how successful they can be in post-secondary education.”

McClellan is ready to help the students move forward with their drone experience.

“A grant-funded program allowed me to attend a summer workshop for a week in Harrisburg,” he said. “It paid for me to take my Remote Pilot License test so I can really help our students in this possible career pathway.”

“It’s a growing field where people are flying for a wide variety of reasons,” HU Director of the Center for Applied Environmental and Geospatial Technology Craig Lewis said. “People want video of their property or an event like a wedding. Bridges and towers can be inspected with 4K video from the ground. Farmers can analyze their crops and target their fertilizing and watering to places that need it most. Thermal imaging can assist in rescue efforts or animal migrations.”

Doing those things for money requires that the operator pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s test requirements.

“Through HU, the grant has provided great materials for our students, which include about $5,000 worth of drone equipment as well as Remote Drone Pilot test prep materials,” McClellan said. “The STEM Academy is not equipped with drones that have capabilities of taking high-quality pictures and video, following a moving subject, and even automatically avoiding obstacles.”

Sometimes, the weather doesn’t allow for outside drone use. “There are setes of tiny drones for practicing flight inside and running custom obstacle courses,” McClellan said.

The drones are already in use and McClellan expects that usage to grow.

“I have a student who is preparing to take his Remote Pilot test soon and look forward to more signing up,” he said. “I’m also looking to implement expanded course options for aviation next year so that students can learn more about the principles of flight through simulators and curriculum from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.”

All Warren County School District students may sign up to join the Academy — located in the Warren County Career Center building — as an elective.


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