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Photo by Frank Prager
Scott Fitzgerald, a pilot for Southwest Airlines and volunteer with the Edwardsville School District UAS4STEM Challenge team, at the team’s presentation the evening of March 30.
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Photo by Frank Prager
Members of the Edwardsville High School UAS4STEM Challenge team presented an overview of drone technology and answered questions for a capacity crowd at the Mannie Jackson Center in Edwardsville.
EDWARDSVILLE — Lewis and Clark Community College, the Main Street Community Center and the Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities hosted a public TED talk discussion Wednesday evening, March 30, for a capacity crowd at the Mannie Jackson Center.
The evening included the presentation of a recorded TED talk about the use of aerial drones for conservation, a discussion by the audience on the topic and a presentation by the Edwardsville High School team participating in this year’s UAS4STEM Challenge. UAS stands for unmanned aircraft system; STEM means science, technology, engineering and math.
Thirteen students in teacher Kevin Paur’s advanced placement geography course at Edwardsville High School volunteered to participate in the regional and national competition and make up two UAS4STEM Challenge teams. The competition consists of building aerial drones and operating them in conformance with requirements and objectives dictated by the competition guidelines.
The participation has been made possible as a result of resources and organizations working cooperatively to provide the funding and expertise for the project. Lewis and Clark Community College, Main Street Community Center, the Edwardsville School District and the Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities all have worked cooperatively to support and enable the effort. In addition, numerous individuals have contributed time and expertise to the project.
Scott Fitzgerald, a pilot for Southwest Airlines, and Elizabeth Grant of Lewis and Clark Community College facilitated the evening’s program. Fitzgerald has 35 years of experience in aerial photography and has worked extensively with the team in providing direction for the project. His son Bryce is a member of the challenge team.
Dr. Randy Pearson teaches geographic information systems at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and provides curriculum guidance for the challenge team. Pearson emphasizes the benefits of the students’ participation above and beyond the project’s substantial educational aspects.
“These type of activities open doors and create opportunities for these students,” he said. “The learning they get from this is way beyond just the information they learn about drones.”
Fitzgerald has been instrumental in the past in science literacy and STEM education in the district. He found out about the competition and came up with the idea of having students participate. Fitzgerald contacted Pearson and the school district and the resources came together to bring the project about. Fitzgerald notes it took a lot of people working together to make it happen.
The students were not only required to build the drones from the ground up but also had to take extensive training and pass a proficiency examination before they could acquire the required equipment. Both Fitzgerald and Pearson emphasize the extensive effort required on the part of the students.
“They have to simulate a search-and-rescue operation, doing specific maneuvers under real-life constraints such as limited battery power and environment conditions,” Pearson said. “On the day of the competition, the students do this all entirely on their own.”
During the evening’s agenda, the student teams presented extensive information about how the drones operate and what the requirements are for successfully executing the challenge assignments.
The National Academy of Sciences has made a number of recommendations for how to prepare the United States to compete in the global economy of the 21st century and STEM challenges are the result of one of them. The purpose of the challenges is to target secondary school students with the opportunity to use their STEM skills and participate in real-life, project-based learning in areas that will help advance the nation in these areas.