Workshop engages local students with drones

Maggie Eubanks, News Editor

Eyes took to the skies on Saturday as high school students took part in Sky Breakers Drone Workshop put on by professors and students in the unmanned aircraft systems management major. 

This workshop was the fourth of its kind put on by ULM and the first in a two-part set this semester. The first one on Saturday was specifically for high school students, and middle school students will get their opportunity on April 1. 

 Sky Breakers engages students in the growing field of drone technology and gives them hands-on experience in flying professional drones. 

Darrion Flunder-Jenkins, associate professor of aviation and director of unmanned aircraft research at ULM, expressed how vital it is that young students are aware of this drone program at ULM because of the massive number of jobs in the U.S. involving drones. 

“We’re trying to get them more engaged in drone technology to let them know, hey, we have a drone program here on campus,” Flunder-Jenkins said. “We are here to teach how to fly drones, how to manage drones, how to deal with the FAA, how to handle an entire fleet and how to manage your equipment and personnel.”

During the workshop, each student learned about the intricacies of drone technology through different classes in Hemphill Hall. Some of the classes focused on various aspects of drone management, like agriculture and field surveying, while some featured smaller drones that students learned to control with their phones. 

Junior unmanned aircraft systems major Henry Struckman led one of those classes for the participants. He said this workshop was not only fun for students but for him as well because he got to give students a new perspective on drone technology. 

“It’s such a growing field,” Struckman said. “There are so many different aspects of the world today that use drone technology. From selling houses to military application, from agriculture to topography, you can use it for most everyday things.”

Struckman went on to say that you can use drones for anything “if you have the right mindset.”

Students had the option to fly two types of drones at the workshop. According to Flunder-Jenkins, one of the drones has six propellers and can reach speeds up to 40 mph, whereas the smaller drone is equipped with a better camera and can reach speeds up to 50 mph.

Oak Grove High School senior Aaron Cox said he enjoyed the opportunity to learn from the professors and students about a skill he can use in a professional setting. 

“It possibly gave us that little bit of information to use in the future,” Cox said. “Maybe we’ll go into the Ag business and spray fields, real estate or Hollywood even to film movies.” 

The drone business is one of the fastest-growing industries in the entire world. From new ideas about Amazon delivering packages with drones to ones already in use, such as construction companies that use drones to survey land, drone technology reaches across all factions of business. 

In a study released by Goldman Sachs, the company estimated that drone technology was worth around $100 billion in 2020. That number has increased significantly since then, according to Flunder-Jenkins, who said the business makes up 5% of the U.S. GDP. 

Students learning from the unmanned aircraft systems professors have the potential to be the future of the program at ULM and the business in the U.S. as a whole. 

Flunder-Jenkins mentioned that Louisiana has a special stake in the business as drones can be used in the aftermath of natural disasters. 

“In Louisiana, we have a bunch of natural disasters, so we’re teaching our students how to handle situations out of the norm,” Flunder-Jenkins said. “What a drone can do compared to what a human can do is way more significant.”

The Sky Breakers program is working to bridge the gap between the campus and the community.