Careers involving the understanding and use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, are developing rapidly. A wide range of careers, from precision agriculture and crop insurance to real estate and police work, need trained UAS technicians. In addition, industries are discovering new needs for UAS and industries that use UAS are finding new ways to benefit from the data and imagery gathered by UAS. To meet these increasing demands, Parkland College will develop UAS courses and certificates with a focus on agricultural applications. This project will include the participation of five other community colleges, three four-year institutions, and industry partners. The new curriculum will advance UAS technician education so that students earn relevant credentials that will prepare them for jobs after completion. The project will focus on recruiting women and veterans into the UAS program, and will engage high schools and universities to enhance educational avenues into UAS technology careers. Students who graduate with credentials in UAS technologies should be able to enter a high-growth STEM industry that is expected to need many workers in the next decade.
The central goal of the project is to develop UAS curricula at Parkland College that meet industry needs in the major agricultural hub of Central Illinois and its surrounding area, which is expanding the use of UAS technologies. The newly-developed courses will be based on existing courses from partnering community colleges but with an emphasis on UAS applications for agricultural industries. Topics covered in the courses will include flight controllers, aerodynamics, managing data, regulations, and safety and operational considerations. The courses will be combined to create 6-credit and 18-credit UAS certificates. Industry input about curricular content will be integrated into designing the credentials so that the credentials appropriately prepare technicians for jobs in the UAS sector. The project team also aims to develop articulation agreements with universities offering UAS degrees. These connections will ensure that the new curriculum will be transferable for students wishing to continue their education. Project outreach activities will focus on recruiting women and veterans into the program, and foster associations with regional high schools. The products and best practices from the project will be disseminated through coordination with community college and university partners as well as online at multiple NSF-ATE Centers, including the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.