Academy of Art University San Francisco Flies Into The Future With Drones


Academy of Art University founder Richard S. Stephen’s philosophy was that teachers and curriculum would always be on the leading edge of innovation and creativity. Drones fall right in line with that philosophy, as the frontier of their use in mixed media (marketing and advertisement, cable, Internet, movies) is being pioneered. This technology will soon, if not already, be the norm in these applications.

Folks in the news, television and movie industry have been making queries of school representatives if they had any plans to offer drone operation education courses. Of course, there is no shortage of drone people, but qualified operators who know how to work in the business with professionalism and safety are in high demand.

After consideration, Multimedia Communications Department Director, Jan Yanehiro, Associate Director Steve Kotton, and Faculty Member Richard Hart decided it was time to introduce this technology and potential to their students at AoA. Standing up a drone program at the University level is a daunting proposition. You need the right mix of people, technology, facilities and OEM support. It also doesn’t hurt to be smack dab in the middle of the Silicon Valley of drones or to have a University President who can see and understand the future of Multimedia arts!

You may be wondering how I became involved in this program. Six or seven years ago I was part of an episode of the show that Richard Hart and Steve Kotton produced called Next Step 2.0. They produced an episode on First Person View (FPV) and drones long before the technology went mainstream.

Fast-forward to 2015 and a meeting to discuss the feasibility of creating and supporting a drone production program. I was positive to the idea, glad to make suggestions as well as a professional introduction to DJI’s Romeo Durscher. I wanted to start the program with an OEM, who’s product line focuses on the creative arts, and that is what DJI’s products are known for. These students are the future creative force for entertainment, and this partnership reinforces their standing as the professional’s choice for aerial photo and video gear.

The drone program represents a significant commitment and serves as a testament to the confidence that current University President, Dr. Elisa Stephens, has in her staff. Enough to provide us a facility in San Francisco with not only a classroom but also a space that affords us enough room to fly a squadron of drones indoors. That kind of facility is not easy to come by in the Bay Area.

As this program grows, we hope to work with many more OEM’s and companies with software and other ancillary products as the school has multiple disciplines that can incorporate this technology into the educational mix.

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