National Science Foundation Selects Northland To Lead Large Drone Education Initiative Project

by Jonathan Beck
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2017 issue

THIEF RIVER FALLS, MINN. – The National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Program has awarded Northland 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 for career pathways across the state of Minnesota and beyond. UAS, often referred to as “drones,” are being adopted as another tool for many industries. Geospatial Technology is key to turning digital data into products like Google Earth.

Multiple geospatial layers, satellite imagery, street maps and other information create powerful products. Northland has conducted many applied research projects collecting layers of data with drones. This data is being integrated in classroom instruction. Students 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 emphasis is Geographic Information Systems (GIS). SCSU is also well known for its land survey and mapping program. Both programs use Geospatial Technology.

SCSU will provide tremendous resources to advance applied applications of drone technology. The partnership with two-year colleges will enhance technician education in these advanced technologies.

Northland and SCSU are building articulation agreements between two-year technical and four-year degree programs. 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. 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. Educators learn about UAS and Geospatial Technology and the impact on their disciplines.

Information can be found on the Northland Aerospace website:

There will be an even broader impact as more industries integrate these technologies. Many businesses and organizations are now seeking qualified employees who understand drones and Geospatial technology. This project will leverage industry collaboration to assist in creating internships. Northland 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 Northland have discovered new applications for drone technology firsthand. Content from these projects is being integrated into the classroom. Students are able to show their skills through classroom projects and presentations. Demonstrating successful outcomes attracts greater interest and investment, continuing the cycle of growth.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jonathan Beck is the UAS Instructor/Program Manager at Northland Community and Technical College, Thief River Falls, Minnesota. This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE 1501629). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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