UC Davis Drone Academy takes off with in-person throwback – Daily Democrat


After a long two-year hiatus in person, UC Davis Drone Academy made a big comeback this week when the program welcomed dozens of local students in grades 10-12 to the campus conference center for a program Four-day immersive STEM.

The academy is funded by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and the UCD CITRIS Technology program, teaching students from underrepresented backgrounds how to fly mini-drones and remotely operated vehicles and study their research and utilitarian uses in society. .

One of the main goals of the academy is to give underrepresented students in the greater Sacramento area and Yolo County the opportunity to learn more about drones, STEM, and aerospace, while one with real hands-on learning experience.

“We want to make sure that we give these students educational equity,” said Kayla Vogt, regional assistant director of the Early Academic Outreach Program, or EAOP, and key planner at the academy. “These are mostly students who may not have had the opportunity to take programs like this. I know I didn’t have that opportunity when I was in high school, but I think I would have really loved it.

UC Davis Drone Academy Director Nathan Metzler guides students while piloting a drone. (Carlos Guerrero/Daily Democrat)

According to Vogt, EAOP serves multiple schools in the area, with different regions serving different cities. All affected students have likely retrieved an application from a school counselor and applied. EAOP is a program that aims to help underrepresented students achieve all the post-secondary opportunities they want.

The academy kicked off Wednesday with students from 12 area high schools, including Woodland and Pioneer High School as well as others from Galt, Dixon and Sacramento.

UC Davis Drone Academy director Nathan Metzler, who is also an FAA-certified pilot, says the program began with a five-year grant in 2017 from the FAA.

After a few attempts to hold the academy virtually in 2020 and 2021, Meltzer is thrilled to be back in person for the first time since 2019.

A student prepares to launch a bird drone during Friday afternoon academy activities.  (Carlos Guerrero/Daily Democrat)
A student prepares to launch a bird drone during Friday afternoon academy activities. (Carlos Guerrero/Daily Democrat)

“It turns out that drones and planes as a primary training platform are a fantastic way to teach,” Metzler said. “This is the first time we’ve had the academy without size restrictions since 2019. During that time, drone technology has come a long way, so we’ve expanded our inventory of what we can teach students, including including first person view drones, ground robots and bird drones.

“We’re all excited to be back, especially the students,” Metzler continued. “We have received more requests for this year than ever. So it’s a sigh of relief and excitement that we’re back to doing what this program was designed to do in person. We emphasize the teamwork component. The academy is designed for teams of four to communicate and work with each other to solve problems. »

Maylina Salazar, who is entering 10th grade at Pioneer High School, was in attendance for most of the program after arriving from the waitlist a day late due to dropping out.

“I found it really fun,” Salazar said. “At first, I didn’t really think it would be fun. I just wanted to get through it, but I had way more fun than I thought. I learned things that I honestly never would have learned if I hadn’t come. I would love to come back next year as the academy gives you a great opportunity.

On the first day of the program, Wednesday, the students were really eager to get their hands on the drones, according to Vogt. They flew around several drones and simultaneously began work on a rocket they would launch Friday morning. On Thursday, they honed their skills flying drones through obstacle courses while completing the rocket.

On Friday, everyone went to a local field where the students were finally able to launch their rockets into local orbit. The program culminated on Saturday morning with teams of four competing against each other.

Then live raptors were brought in to teach students about natural aerodynamics. Family members were invited to join in the fun.

“It’s great to see students here in the summer,” Vogt said. “Some of them have to drive a long way to get here. For a student to wake up so early and want to leave here for Davis is unbelievable. So many students end up loving this experience even though they may have been intimidated by the drones.

Metzler says the program held one-day mini-academies at a few high schools in April and plans to do a few more at local high schools in the fall. During the month of November, there are plans to hold a one-day academy on the UC Davis campus.

“Being with the students teaching and watching their eyes light up is my favorite part of the academy as a principal and instructor,” Metzer said. “This year, we even had a higher ratio of female and male students. It’s not what you typically see in the aerospace profession, so we really wanted to open that up for all genders to be part of. It’s about exposing them to a curriculum, technology, and career path they never would have considered.

Anyone interested in participating in future programs can contact the EAOP program at UC Davis. They can also contact Metzler himself through the campus CITRUS program.


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