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Flight Plans: Federal Aviation Administration gets a lesson in North’s drone program

By Grace Pecci - Staff Writer | Jun 12, 2019

Telegraph photo by GRACE PECCI Nashua High School North juniors, from left, Summer Metcalf, Sarah Walsh and Swathi Chandran practice landing drones on their hands Tuesday morning.

NASHUA – Nashua High School North students on Tuesday showcased their drone piloting skills before Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Deputy Administrator Carl Burleson.

More specifically, Burleson learned about the school’s Girls in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) and the Drones & Technology course.

Members of the National Guard, school officials, teachers, city and state officials and other FAA representatives joined Burleson to learn about the important role drones will play in the future. He said he was happy to visit and learn about the program, as this is something near and dear to his heart.

Burleson also said there are challenges coming within the next 20 years, specifically with shortages of pilots and technicians in aviation.

“How do we develop the right linkages across the country to develop a pipeline of the next generation of aviators? We have a desperate need,” Burleson said Tuesday.

He added, “We need to have more women. We need to have more minorities, and we need to have different skill sets.”

Last year, with the help of an incentive grant from the New Hampshire Department of Education, the Nashua Technology Center was able to develop the pilot program Girls in STEAM. This will now include Drones & Technology, which will run for a full semester at the school during the 2019-20 academic term.

Photography teacher Erin Knoetig, who led the pilot program with the help of Nashua Technology Center North Director Amanda Bastoni, will be running the course. When first discussing the idea, Bastoni and Knoetig brainstormed ways to get girls engaged in aviation and in STEAM. They used photography as their hook, which ultimately worked.

“Students who like art and want to take photos are learning that they can be a part of the STEAM world or the STEM world and are starting to understand that technology can be a tool that they can also use,” Bastoni said.

According to Bastoni, 50 students wanted to take part in the pilot program, and 27 students ended up participating. For the course that will run next year, over 50 students signed up, though they will only be able to have 18 students.

Knoetig got her FAA 107 drone license last year and admitted that she had limited previous knowledge on drones, but it was about allowing her students to see her struggle.

For the course next year, Knoetig and Bastoni plan to introduce students to the basics of drones and would ultimately like to run a second course sometime in the future to help prepare students for their FAA 107 drone license.

For the future, they want to go down to Nashua’s middle schools to teach younger students about these drones. Knoetig will be working with the local Technology Student Association, which will be participating in drone competitions next year for the first time.

“We really see this as a pathway to get students to move into aviation and into the STEAM world,” Bastoni said.

Students in the pilot program have also been asked to speak at the Christa McAuliffe Innovation Summit in December, where they will be showing off their drones.

“Sometimes when you’re learning something new that you have never tried before, it’s nice to learn with other people who are also knew,” Bastoni added.

Burleson said it was great to learn more about the program.

“We are trying to figure out how to support and leverage these efforts because the heart of what we do is safety,” Burleson said. He noted that the only way to have the safety in the future is to have the right kind of skill sets and enough people who continue to want to be involved in aviation.

During the meeting, he encouraged the students to consider a future with the FAA.

“As you think about the future, don’t discount the ability to come work for the FAA because you actually get to change the world,” Burleson said.


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