A high growth sector of the national economy involves small unmanned aircraft systems, also called drones. These computer-controlled aircraft can be used in situations where manned flight is too risky or difficult. Drone technology is estimated to have a national economic impact of $100 billion, with an annual average growth of 23%. Drone technology has uses in many different industries, including farming, building construction, search and rescue, filmmaking, ecological studies, firefighting, coal extraction, national and state park surveillance, economic land development, and recreational pursuits. Drone technology also serves as the technological platform for the next generation of scientific data collection, requiring greater collaboration between information technology, geospatial sciences, and aviation-aeronautical technologies. As such, drones are already acting as a relatable science product in the general population and increasing the science literacy of hobbyists. This project aims to develop industry-specific curricula related to small unmanned aircraft systems. In this way, it intends to build the network of educational pathways and job pipelines for a skilled aviation workforce in Colorado, strengthening alignment between research, educational, and industry use.

Colorado Northwestern Community College will develop a new academic program and educational pathway to prepare the next generation of unmanned aircraft systems technicians for Colorado. The College is a rural two-year technical college with an established aviation program. Modifications to this current program will result in an accelerated program that allows industry to choose an accredited educational approach for educating its unmanned aircraft systems technicians. Working with its industry partners, the project will adapt and implement current drone courses into a condensed, accelerated, and hybrid class format, consistent with industry needs in Northwest Colorado. Students will self-complete an initial online pre-qualifying exam, called an Individualized Competency STEM Assessment, prior to acceptance into the accelerated on-site classroom training program. The online, self-paced assessment will provide detailed Concept Modules that instantly address and subsequently correct students' proficiency gaps during the pre-exam curriculum, with the goal of guaranteeing that each students' working knowledge reaches the required skill proficiency needed for subsequent coursework. Upon satisfactorily completing the online assessment prerequisite, students will register for accelerated/condensed on-site field and classroom unmanned aircraft systems coursework with Colorado Northwestern Community College. This project is funded by the Advanced Technological Education program that focuses on the education of technicians for the advanced-technology fields that drive the nation's economy.

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.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
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Michael Davis
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Colorado Northwestern Community College
United States
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