National Science Foundation Selects NCTC to Lead Large Project Drone Initiative in Education


BY: JONATHAN BECK, UAS Instructor/Program Manager

The National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Program awarded Northland Community & Technical College (NCTC) its second NSF ATE Project (DUE 1700615) “Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Geospatial Information Technology Integration into Technician Education”. This project will advance Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Geospatial education and career pathways across the State of Minnesota and beyond.

UAS, often referred to as drones, are being adopted as another tool for a lot of industries.  Geospatial Technology is key to turning digital data into georeferenced products for use in Geographic Information Systems like Google Earth.  These complex layers of satellite imagery, street maps and other information create powerful products.  NCTC has conducted many applied research projects collecting data with drones and creating layers with the collected data.  This data is being integrated in classroom instruction, where students can experience practical applications for drone and geospatial technology.

St. Cloud State University (SCSU) is a principal partner for the new NSF ATE project. SCSU has a robust Geography Department and a Spatial Analysis Research Lab. One program SCSU is well known for is Land Survey and Mapping … another specialty is Geographic Information Systems (GIS). SCSU will provide tremendous resources to advance applied applications of drone technology. The partnership with 2-year colleges will enhance technician education in these advanced technologies.

NCTC and SCSU are building articulation agreements between 2-year technical and 4-year degrees. Students graduating from technical programs in advanced technology are in high demand. This project will open the doors to expand options for continuing education. Stackable certificates are also a part of the project. These certificates will focus on drone pilot requirements and education on drones and geospatial technology.

This project will also continue expanding the opportunities for DroneTECH Educator Workshops. The DroneTECH workshops allow educators to access resources and professional development as they learn about UAS and Geospatial Technology and the impact in their disciplines.  Information can be found on the Northland Aerospace DroneTech website.

There will be a broad impact as more industries integrate these technologies. Many are now seeking qualified employees who understand drones and Geospatial technology. NCTC has already broken ground on new applications, engaged industry, and formed partnerships. This has all led to developing technical education to support emerging industry needs.

This innovative model is cultivating development of classroom projects with real-world impact. Industries partnering with NCTC have discovered new applications for drone technology first hand and content from these projects is being integrated into the classroom. This project will leverage this collaboration to assist in creating internships and demonstrating successful outcomes attracts interest and investment … continuing the cycle of growth.

Agreement Signing Ceremony

NCTC along with SCSU’s School of Public Affairs, Department of Geography and Planning are hosting an Agreement Signing Ceremony to celebrate the awarded project. The ceremony will be held on September 27, 2017 at 2:00 PM in Thief River Falls at the Northland Community and Technical College Aerospace site, 13892 Airport Road, Thief River Falls, MN. Dr. Dennis Bona, president of NCTC, and Dr. Ashish Vaidya, President of SCSU, will be on hand to offer their perspectives on this unique higher education collaboration supporting an emerging and innovative technology.

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