The Federal Aviation Administration selected Harper College Certificate program in drone technology and applications for his Unmanned Aircraft Systems-Collegiate Training Initiative (UAS-CTI).
“We designed this program to meet student needs, but we also met FAA requirements,” said Mukila Maitha, Harper Drone Program Coordinator, Associate Professor and Chair of Geography. “This program is extensive and includes multi-rotor, fixed-wing drones, simulators and a strong connection with geotechnology. Between curriculum, teachers, hardware and laboratory facilities, our capacity is in line with the requirements of the FAA. ”
The FAA’s UAS-CTI program recognizes institutions that prepare students for careers in unmanned aerial systems, commonly known as drones. Colleges must offer a curriculum that covers various aspects of UAS training, including hands-on flight practice, maintenance, use, applications, privacy concerns, safety, and federal guidelines regarding drones.
Harper’s Drone Technology and Applications Certification Program consists of six courses that focus on aspects ranging from drone control to geotechnologies to photography. Most of the courses are held online, with drone learning courses being in a mixed format as instruction is required on campus.
The program started with a full capacity of students and Maitha remains passionate about the students’ passion for drone technology. Due to the quality of the teaching by Richard Schultz, lecturer and experienced geodidact, many students in the program felt confident enough to apply for their drone pilot license before the end of the first semester. Maitha said all Harper applicants earned their licenses in their first semester.
One of them was Angelica Avalos, who learned about the program through Harper’s Geographical Information Systems (GIS) program, which shares some DNA with the drone program. After earning a GIS certificate (and then serving as a complementary instructor in the program), Angelica took drone courses with Harper on her way to an Associate in Science degree. She plans to graduate in the fall of 2022 and move to a regional university for a bachelor’s degree in geography.
“One of my dream jobs would be to work for the National Park Service,” said Angelica. “I would love to explore things like natural resources, forestry and more through drone imagery.”
She began this journey through her work in a park district and internships at Harper’s Facility Management and Lake County Forest Preserves. She said her drone credentials impressed her colleagues at Forest Preserves, who had worked with a third party for their drone needs.
“Not everyone can say ‘licensed drone pilot’ on their résumé,” said Angelica with a laugh.
Angelica’s geographic interests are only one path for those certified in drone technology – something they believe is represented by the diversity of interest and expertise in their Harper courses. She remembered students who were real estate agents and photographers, firefighters and high school teachers. Some worked in areas with natural resources; others were in marketing.
Maitha said this speaks of both the benefits of the program and the number of “bright prospects” careers available to those with knowledge and skills tied to emerging labor needs. The FAA’s selection of the Harper program only adds to the importance of the Harper program.
“I think it recognizes the high standards we have,” he said. “It recognizes the rigor and resources in terms of expertise and student needs.”
He stressed that this was just the beginning. The drone program is Harper’s first step into aviation, and Maitha hopes to build on that foundation.
“For Harper, for students, there is an opportunity for significant growth,” Maitha said. “This opens the door to meeting drone training needs throughout the greater Chicago area and beyond.”