The Federal Aviation Administration selected the Harper College Drone Technology and Applications Certificate Program for its Unmanned Aircraft Systems College Training Initiative (UAS-CTI).
Harper began his drone program in the spring of 2021. It is the only UAS-CTI College in northern Illinois and one of two programs in that state.
“We designed this program to meet the needs of the students, but in the process we also met the FAA requirements,” said Mukila Maitha, Harper’s drone program coordinator, associate professor and chair of the geography department. . “This program is comprehensive, with multi-rotor, fixed-wing drones, simulators and a close link with geospatial technology. Between the program, educators, equipment and laboratory facilities, our capacity aligns with the requirements of the FAA.
The FAA’s UAS-CTI program recognizes institutions that prepare students for careers in unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones. Colleges are required to provide a curriculum covering various aspects of UAS training, including flight practices, maintenance, uses, applications, privacy concerns, security, and federal drone policies.
The Harper’s Drone Technology and Applications certificate program consists of six courses focusing on aspects ranging from drone flying to geospatial technologies to photography. Most of the courses are online, with the courses involving learning to fly drones taking place in a blended format due to the need for on-campus instruction.
The program was launched with full student capacity and Maitha remains thrilled with the students’ passion for drone technology. Due to the quality of teaching from Richard Schultz, an assistant instructor and experienced geospatial educator, many students in the program felt confident enough to apply for their drone pilot license before the end of the first semester. Maitha said all of Harper’s first-semester applicants have graduated.
One of them was Angelica Avalos, who heard about the program through Harper’s Geographical Information Systems (GIS) program, which shares some DNA with the drone program. After earning a GIS certificate (and then serving as an additional instructor in the program), Angelica took drone courses towards an Associate of Science degree at Harper. She plans to graduate in the fall of 2022 and transfer to a regional university to earn a bachelor’s degree in geography.
“One of my dream jobs would be to work for the National Park Service,” Angelica said. “I would love to be able to explore things like natural resources, forestry and more through drone imagery. ”
She has already started on this path through her work with an area park district and internships with Harper Facilities Management and Lake County Forest Reserves. She said her drone credentials impressed her colleagues at Forest Preserves, who had worked with a third party for their drone needs.
“Not everyone can claim ‘licensed drone pilot’ on their resume,” Angelica said with a laugh.
Angelica’s geographic interests represent only one avenue for those certified in drone technology – something she said was represented by the diversity of interests and expertise in her Harper courses. She remembered students who were real estate agents and photographers, firefighters and high school teachers. Some have worked in fields involving natural resources; others were in marketing.
Maitha said this is a testament to the usefulness of the program, as well as the number of ‘prospect’ careers available to those with knowledge and skills related to emerging workforce needs. The FAA’s selection of the Harper agenda only reinforces the importance of the Harper agenda.
“I think that recognizes the high standards that we have,” he said. “It recognizes the rigor and resources in terms of expertise and the needs of the students.
He stressed that this is only the beginning. The drone program is Harper’s first step in aviation and Maitha hopes to build on that foundation.
“There is a significant growth opportunity for Harper, for the students,” Maitha said. “This opens the door to meeting drone education needs throughout the Chicago metro area and beyond.”
(Photo credit: Juan Mendoza)