2018-2019 Drone Education Program and Competition

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On March 12, 2019, the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette Inc. (PIC) concluded the inaugural Drone Education Program and Competition. PIC’s Vice President of Business Services Sean Sypolt described the program as “An educational competition which provided area high school students with the skills necessary to fly a drone in order to construct a multi-media presentation as well as race through an obstacle course.” The initial startup of the program was made possible by the First Energy Foundation: West Penn Power’s Christmas in July Award.

When asked why drones, PIC’s President and CEO Tim Yurcisin replied “the Drone Education Program and Competition came to fruition after examining the role drones currently have in the workforce as well as their potential in the foreseeable future.” Drones are currently being used in a variety of industries such as checking powerlines for obstructions to real estate videos to building inspections. The number of jobs that use drones is expected to grow to over 100,000 within the next 6 years. In order to best prepare the next generation of workers, the Private Industry Council is educating local high schools on the impact of drones in the workforce and providing students the opportunity to learn these skills now to be better prepared for their future careers.

The Private Industry Council enlisted the three Westmoreland County High Schools of Belle Vernon Area, Franklin Regional and Greater Latrobe to participate in the inaugural Drone Education Program and Competition. Each High School compiled a team of 4-5 students alongside a faculty advisor to compete. PIC’s Youth Supervisor John Malone (pictured below on the far right) detailed the program and necessary steps the students had to take before they could begin flying the drones. “The 13 students attended two Saturday sessions at the Private Industry Council’s corporate center located in Greensburg to prepare for the competition. The first session included 6 hours of drone flying training by Shane Hertzog, President and CEO of DroneZography LLC located in Mount Pleasant. Before the students were able to get outside and begin flying, they were first tasked with learning the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines and regulations regarding drones and the Rules of the Sky. Students were then provided with 6 hours of film editing training on the programs of Adobe Premier Pro and Film Maker Pro.”

For the student’s final project, they were tasked with creating a commercial for their respective school by using video captured with the drone. The 3 to 5 minute videos took approximately ten hours to complete. The students each presented their completed commercial at the Drone Education Showcase event on March 12, 2019 at the Private Industry Council’s corporate center. Belle Vernon Area High School’s commercial advertised their engineering department while Greater Latrobe High School focused on the impressive achievement levels of the district while giving a tour of the school grounds and athletic facilities. Franklin Regional High School took a different approach with included concepts and topics that the students learned from the program while presenting unique views of the Franklin Regional campus. The showcase had attendees that included other area high schools, local businesses and community organizations in addition to representatives and students from the three participating schools.

After the students presented their amazing commercials and provided the audience with a short synopsis of what their learned and where they see drone technology fitting into their future career plans, the students participated in a drone flying obstacle course. The obstacle course challenged the students to use the skills they learned over the last few months to maneuver their drone through an intricate maze while taking weather into consideration. The three students with the fastest times on the obstacle course were awarded prizes. The results were as follows:

3rd Place: Colton Lawson (Belle Vernon Area High School) – $150 Best Buy Gift Card

2nd Place: Dominic Colangelo (Franklin Regional High School) – $250 Best Buy Gift Card

1st Place: Nicole Fritz (Greater Latrobe High School) – $500 Best Buy Gift Card

“The Private Industry Council is taking an innovative approach to incorporating STEM concepts and ideas into its youth programming and is taking strides to develop and create new and interesting programs that will best prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s workforce” says Youth Supervisor John Malone. The Private Industry Council is looking to expand its Drone Education Program and Competition to more schools within the area while also parenting with local businesses. The addition of the business partnership will allow students to develop a career pathway in STEM related careers while also having the opportunity to job shadow and obtain a firsthand look at different careers involving drones.