College Developing Ag-Focused Drone Program Through Federal Grant


With the help of a $2.6 million federal grant, Moses Lake, Wash.-based Big Bend Community College (BBCC) is developing an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program to train drone technicians and pilots.

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,” comments Terry Leas, president of BBCC.

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, and 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,” says 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 2016. The first year of the grant is dedicated to hiring staff, developing curricula, 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 that students can practice the essentials of flight in a controlled environment.

Hybrid classes will be developed for the program, including online or face-to-face lectures and lab activities. The UAS 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 an HSI because of the demographics and income levels in its service district population.

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