Drone Challenge Supports College STEM Education

The Academy of Model Aeronautics is partnering with the University Aviation Association to let college students get hands-on with drones through a new competition.

After two successful years of hosting challenges for high schoolers, the Academy of Model Aeronautics has expanded its UAS4STEM program to include a competition for college students.

AMA has partnered with the University Aviation Association (UAA) to host the first UAS4STEM Collegiate Challenge in 2018. While the high school competition required students to build a drone from a Quadzilla quadcopter kit and conduct a simulated search-and-rescue mission, the college challenge will expand the requirements—though the details haven’t been decided yet.

“I’m pretty stuck in thinking that it’s difficult to address the STEM side of education if you don’t make something, put something together. And so much of this technology is charge and fly, and I struggle to call that a STEM exercise,” AMA Director of Education Bill Pritchett said. “At the same time, we also know that many small colleges and universities have some equipment—they might have a couple Phantom 3s sitting around—and so we’re talking about how to integrate all of that and make it work.”

A team of experts from AMA and UAA will develop several ideas for the challenge that will be presented at UAA’s September conference. Aside from building and flying a machine, the competition could also require teams of four to eight students to use data collected during the flight.

We’re a nonprofit membership organization, and if you don’t plant then you don’t grow.

The challenges will be held by AMA’s University Model Aviation Students Clubs, which are sponsored on college campuses to provide students with $15 memberships. Students under 19, however, can get free student memberships with AMA.

Pritchett said UAS4STEM should draw more attention to drone technology and its aviation purposes beyond recreation—especially as debate over drone regulations continues—as well as could grow the AMA student clubs and attract new potential members. “We’re a nonprofit membership organization, and if you don’t plant then you don’t grow,” he said. “We feel very strongly that if we engage students and share the resources of the Academy with them that hopefully someday they become adult members.”

AMA also hopes to build on the students’ STEM education and help develop them for STEM careers, as competition participants will complete an online curriculum and have access to training programs.

“It’s always interesting to recognize that a couple of those kids will go immediately to the flying part; they want to fly. A couple of those kids will go immediately to the code or the data or the whatever part. A couple of those kids will go immediately to the engineering, how to make a better mouse trap,” Pritchett said. “It’s just a natural occurrence that a lot of these kids will go, ‘Oh gosh, there’s a call for this in the real world to make money.’”

Students participating in the program will receive licenses, drone equipment, the online course, an online instructional video series, and an AMA membership.

“Following the success of UAS4STEM with high school students across the country, it only makes sense to add a collegiate challenge,” Pritchett said in a press release. “Our new partnership with UAA will provide the AMA additional insight into the post-secondary world, input on designing the new challenges, and all at a reasonable cost allowing greater participation.”

(YouTube screenshot)

Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!