BBCC’s new ‘drone’ program will focus on agriculture

An unmanned aerial systems (UAS or “drone”) program to train drone technicians and pilots will be developed at Big Bend Community College with the help of a $2.6 million federal grant.

The new program, entitled New Opportunities in Aviation, will focus on agricultural applications of drone technology. The grant will provide approximately $520,000 per year for five years.

“The opportunity to use a new UAS education program and our 50-year aviation tradition to serve one of the most diverse and productive agricultural areas in the world is exciting,” said Terry Leas, BBCC President.

Leas said students in BBCC’s computer science program will have pathways to the drone program. It will benefit the college’s commercial pilot and aviation maintenance programs. It will also be exciting for students in the college’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pathways.

“It will have a ripple effect. The UAS program will create connections among many of our existing educational programs,” Leas said.

The UAS program at BBCC will have three initiatives: mechatronics (mechanical and electronics), UAS operations (pilots), and pathway advising. Each initiative will have a full-time director. An estimated 10 faculty positions will be trained in the new curricula and course delivery.

“The pathway advising component is crucial because students will be unfamiliar with the requirements for earning an associate degree in mechatronics or UAS operations,” said Leas. “Big Bend will have the first UAS program in the state’s community and technical college system.”

It will take one year to set up the program, with the first classes anticipated for fall of 2016. The first year of the grant is dedicated to hiring staff, developing curriculum, renovating 5,560-square feet of an existing college hangar for lab space, developing an advising system, and training advisors.

The equipment list includes fixed wing and helicopter drones, as well as mapping software. Flight simulation software will be purchased so students can practice the essentials of flight in a controlled environment.

Hybrid classes will be developed for the program that include on-line, face-to-face lecture, and lab activities. The UAV program has a working advisory committee organized by BBCC grant writer Terry Kinzel.

The grant is a federal Title V Grant for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI). BBCC is designated as a HSI because of the demographics and income levels in its service district population. HSI grants have goals and strategies for helping more local Hispanic students complete college degrees. The benefits of HSI grants are available to all students and residents of BBCC’s service district. The college’s current STEM grant is an HSI grant and has goals that include helping more local Hispanic students to complete engineering degrees.

Check out the Wenatchee World article here.

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