This summer, the University of Mary Washington (UMW) in Fredericksburg, VA became the official home for Virginia’s SMART Community STEM Camp. The camp hosted over 30 local high school students for a full week to learn about cybersecurity, ESports, the drone industry, as well as a hands-on flying experience.
Industry professionals from Little Arms Studios, National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST), Dominion Energy, VA State Police, Push the Button, Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC), and Skydio, and many more joined throughout the week to discuss their careers and share industry knowledge with students to expose them to the many fields in which they can utilize these emerging technologies.
Campus Tour, Squadron Assignments, and Engaging Workshops
On Monday, students were welcomed to camp and spent the day touring the campus and getting to know their fellow campers. Students were divided into four “squadrons” with their squadron leader and RA for the week being a recent US Naval Academy graduate.
Throughout the day, they learned from Greg Williams and Brian Marren on human behavior pattern recognition and analysis and concluded the afternoon with an introduction to ESports from the Director of ESports at UMW, Mark Link. Needless to say, ending your day playing Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. would make most teenagers pretty happy.
Drone Simulator Training and Hands-On Flying with Skydio
Kicking off Tuesday, students did a deep dive into the Zephyr Drone Simulator from Little Arms Studios. Zephyr is a full-featured drone training software for drone instructors, flight academies, professionals and hobbyists. Their advanced UAV simulator trains drone pilots to safely and efficiently operate according to FAA guidelines.
Zephyr uses real-world physics and a constantly expanding library of training modules and drone platforms, meticulously crafted with accurate flight characteristics for cutting-edge drone pilot training. Students were able to train on the simulator flying a virtual Skydio 2 before transitioning to flying the physical drone on a NIST course. After flying on the simulator, students learned how to manually fly the Skydio 2 from the Stafford County Police Department drone team.
Exploring Drone Applications Across Industries and Careers in Drone Development
After gaining hands-on experience, students learned in-depth about the ways drones are used across industries as tools to support professionals and careers in developing drones. From public safety and utility companies use of thermal and photogrammetry as well as carrying out inspections, assessing disaster areas, and search and rescue.
They learned how Skydio’s KeyFrame is used by filmmakers to get the perfect shot and how photogrammetry can be used in video game development. All the while, gaining a broader understanding of the careers involved to develop and manufacture drones.
Many conversations around STEM careers often heavily refer to engineering careers, when in fact there are so many parallel fields within STEM that apply to drone development, from marketing and legal support, to user experience and technical writing.
One of the career fields students were most heavily interested in was hardware testing and reliability where you expertly and safely push a product to its limits to find out when, where, and how it will break. This can be anywhere from testing, recording and documenting how the product (such as a Skydio drone) performs in extreme heat or cold, to when the drone might fall if an object comes in contact with the props.
Creative Filmmaking with Drones and Building a Career as a Drone Pilot
Wednesday focused heavily on creative filmmaking with drones where students learned how to use Skydio’s KeyFrame skill as well as how to build a career as a drone pilot from creative content creator, Ime Umoh.
KeyFrame makes it possible for anyone to capture continuous choreographed shots with complex, cinematic, and smooth camera motion. The user defines a flight path by setting “key-frames” and Skydio’s software creates a smooth spline between the points that can be flown repeatedly, with varying degrees of control, speed, and complexity. This enables any pilot to be their own Hollywood-style camera crew. Students spent the morning creating their own KeyFrame utilizing the beautiful University of Mary Washington campus.
Inspiring Stories and Pursuing a Purpose-Driven Career with Ime Umoh
Later that afternoon, students got the chance to hear and learn from professional drone pilot and creative content creator, Ime Umoh. After leaving his corporate career as a Technical Project Manager, Ime continued to develop his passion for drones, social impact and travel storytelling.
That passion has taken him around the world creating unforgettable content for travel brands, non-profits, music festivals and tourism boards spanning across Africa, the Americas, and Asia. These opportunities have allowed him to develop his creative skills and experiences on a very broad level, testing each facet of his creativity in landscape, travel, lifestyle, portrait, product, and fashion to lead a more purpose-driven career for himself.
Students learned about the importance of holding onto your passions and that it’s never too late to pursue them. Creating a purpose driven career for yourself can be nervous and risky at times, but well worth it if you continue to believe in yourself. Aside from sharing his story, learning from his travels and flying drones in dozens of countries, one of the biggest takeaways for students was the reminder that ultimately you are the one who puts limits on yourself. You’ll go as far as you allow yourself to.
Drone Applications in the Energy Industry
Thursday started off with practice on the NIST courses and guest speakers, Christian Espina and Joel Cashman, from Virginia’s largest power and energy provider, Dominion Energy. Students learned about all the ways Dominion uses drones in their work, from solar panel and construction inspections to assessing storm damages and hazardous maintenance inspections.
Not only does Dominion utilize aerial drones, such as Skydio’s X2E, but also underwater, fixed wing, and caged drones depending on the environment and situation. Students then transitioned to a deep dive on the X2E with Skydio's Deepu John and Ben Husch, where they learned about thermal cameras and why different drones are used in different situations. The deep dive was followed by outdoor fly time with the X2E where the campers got to see Skydio’s infrastructure inspection capabilities and real-time obstacle avoidance in action.
Nurturing the Workforce of the Future
The SMART Community STEM Camp was created to foster the development of knowledge and skills with future generations for working in emerging technologies. A key component of the camp is to provide in-person learning from industry professionals.
As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and the camp exudes a similar approach. When it comes to education, it takes a myriad of companies and professionals participating in camps such as this to inspire the workforce of the future.
Fostering Industry-Education Collaboration for Future Success
In the report titled Drawing the Future by Education and Employers, which surveyed over 20,000 students aged 7-11, the authors found that “less than 1% [of students] get to meet role models from the world of work visiting their school” and “there [was] a significant mismatch between the career aspirations of children and labor market demands.” This is where organizations and professionals have the opportunity to step in and bridge the knowledge gap between educators and emerging industries by making ourselves accessible to future generations.
There is a fundamental understanding from the professionals supporting the camp that it’s vital to make ourselves available and accessible to the next generation in order to nurture industry sustainability. You don’t need to be an educator to share what you do with students – you just need to be an expert in your profession.
We encourage you to reach out to local schools or after school programs to speak to students and share what you do. If you are interested in starting your own outreach program or partnering with Skydio For All, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.