Girls take flight with drone certification

One recruitment challenge is eliminating the “stalking by drone” perception
By: | Issue: January, 2020
December 12, 2019
Students train on drone flight simulators as they work toward an FAA remote pilot certificate. They also code drones, learn airport operations, and meet with aeronautical engineering professionals.Students train on drone flight simulators as they work toward an FAA remote pilot certificate. They also code drones, learn airport operations, and meet with aeronautical engineering professionals.

Of the 69,166 FAA remote pilot certifications awarded in 2017, only 3,462 were earned by women.

That 5% is a statistic that the Elementary Institute of Science in San Diego, California, is working to change with its grant-funded Girls Take Flight program, says Executive Director Jim Stone.

The program is aimed at San Diego USD sophomore and juniors.

One recruitment challenge for the science learning center’s program is capturing girls’ interest by emphasizing the uses of drones beyond the “stalking by drone” perception, Stone says.

Earning an FAA remote pilot certificate

A recent Girls Take Flight kickoff event at the Elementary Institute of Science for nearly 100 girls from five Title I-qualified district high schools featured drone-filmed videos of medicine being delivered to remote African villages, whale watching excursions and other innovative drone uses.


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Twenty girls were then chosen for a 30-hour, weeklong Girls Take Flight drone camp in which they learned how to code drones and met women in the profession.

From that group, 10 were selected for a 150-hour, May-October internship program that focused on airport operations, navigation, weather, radio communications and drone operations.

In addition to gaining FAA certification, the Girls Take Flight program has helped young women build the self-confidence to connect with other students who have similar aeronautical engineering career ambitions.

In addition to gaining FAA certification, the Girls Take Flight program has helped young women build the self-confidence to connect with other students who have similar aeronautical engineering career ambitions.

In addition to the training, the Girls Take Flight students participated in field trips, including one which showcased real-life uses of drones at a Boeing facility. A behind-the-scenes tour at a nearby Universal

Studios drone show included meeting Madeline Ong, a drone light show execution lead at Intel Corp., who was behind the record-breaking 1,218-drone light show at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea.


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The goal of Girls Take Flight is for each student to attain an FAA remote pilot certificate, plus invest hours into honing safety-focused remote flight skills. Students also focus on drone-imaging utilization by learning videography and photography skills.

And after earning an FAA remote pilot certificate, each Girls Take Flight participant is tasked with a drone project that culminates in a presentation to other students at their high school.

Girls Take Flight is increasing numbers

One Girls Take Flight student, Masiti, currently a senior, exemplifies the program’s empowerment impact.

“Masiti started out as a quiet student who was unsure of her career path,” says Stone. “She utilized her knowledge and skills to start a drone club at her school in hopes of inspiring her peers and community. She now plans to pursue aeronautical engineering as her undergraduate degree.”

Although the Girls Take Flight model is scalable for other school districts, Stone says that the biggest challenge is finding qualified female drone pilots who can also instruct.

“We have qualified 13%of all of the female FAA drone-certified pilots under the age of 20 with only two cohorts already,” he says. “We look forward to increasing that number even more.”


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