NMSU’s UAS-STEM summer camp exceeds expectations

August 17, 2017

Maisy Thomlinson, a fifth-grader at Hillrise Elementary, helps FAA representative Ben Bradley program a remote-controlled vehicle during the UAS-STEM summer camp at New Mexico State University.
NMSU photo by Tiffany Acosta.
With the increasing popularity of unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones, New Mexico State University capitalized on the opportunity to educate students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics and hosted its first-ever UAS-STEM camp this summer.

NMSU's Physical Science Laboratory and STEM Outreach Center in the College of Education collaborated to offer morning and afternoon sessions for two weeks in both June and July. Participants experienced flight simulations, UAS presentations, 3-D printing, UAS coding and flying and UAS obstacle courses and missions during the camp.

"UAS are fun and exciting," said Henry Cathey, Physical Science Laboratory Deputy Director. "They are in the news and are doing some exciting things. They are also accessible to fly. A 12-year-old can't typically go out and fly a manned aircraft, but can fly a remote controlled quadcopter. Bottom line, they are cool and fun and very educational, too.

"These young men and women were fully engaged in hands-on learning about UAS. It was a delight to see them dive full in, learn new skills, and have some fun being pilots, programmers and problem solvers," Cathey added.

"The students practiced making payloads using 3-D doodler pens and their flying drones had to drop the payload in a basket," said Susan Brown, director of the STEM Outreach Center. "So many had heard about Amazon using drones in some of the cities in the U.S to deliver packages. Drones themselves are fascinating and the students were in turn fascinated. Introducing programming only increased their interest.

"They loved driving and flying the drones, as well as the programming that they learned. The instructors had tracks prepared that made flying and driving the drones an adventure. To program a drone to successfully complete a track was an accomplishment," she added.

The summer camp was free for students in fourth through eighth grades through funding from the Federal Aviation Administration as part of its STEM Outreach events. In 2015, NMSU became a core member-university on the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) that operates an FAA National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. In addition to the summer camp, the FAA funds also sponsored NMSU's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadshows in fall 2016.

Cathey said the camp organizers expected high demand, and the July session was added to accommodate requests. Originally, NMSU committed to host a camp with 25 participants but ended up serving nearly 120 campers.

"I was thrilled by how the camps went," he said. "These young men and women had lots of fun, got a taste of the excitement offered by UAS, and hopefully got a vision of themselves in the future working in these types of technical careers."

FAA UAS/R&D Operations Research Manager and acting deputy program manager for the Center of Excellence Diane Ford said she was impressed with the campers. Ford and two additional FAA representatives visited camp for a couple of days during the July session.

"They are learning not just about drones, they're learning about aviation in general," she said. "They are also learning life skills. They are collaborating, learning to work in teams and they are learning that it doesn't have to work perfectly the first time. The benefits to the students were overwhelmingly obvious through their eagerness to participate in the activities and their dedication to implementing the instructions provided during the classroom sessions. Their enthusiasm about the camp was also expressed during our personal interactions with them."

Cathey said he hopes to offer the camp again next summer.

"It would be great to offer this same camp next year to a new group of students. It would be wonderful to further challenge the students who took the camp this year with the next steps in UAS education including possibly building their own vehicle to understand the mechanics and controls of the flight vehicle and flying actual measurement missions where data is collected and processed to understand how real world UAS missions work," he said.

Story by: Tiffany Acosta, tfrank@nmsu.edu
NMSU News Center