How drones are changing these high school students’ lives

Feb 14, 2019 -

Local high school students learn to be drone pilots

This article originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune under the title “Girls Take Flight gives San Diego high school girls life-changing drone skills

Masiti Ahmed and Airyel Montana, high school students from San Diego, are both acutely aware that the drone industry, and the overall aerospace industry, are dominated by men.

According to the most recent statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration, just 5 percent of certified drone pilots and seven percent of licensed airplane pilots are women.

“That kind of bummed me out,” said Ahmed, a student at Crawford High, of learning how underrepresented women are in the field of commercial drones. “I wanted to prove them wrong.”

It was a big part of why Ahmed, Montana and eight other San Diego high school girls — mostly from southeastern San Diego — participated in the first “Girls Take Flight” drone program at the Elementary Institute of Science in Valencia Park.

The 32-week internship, which required a minimum of 130 hours of instruction to complete, culminated Friday with a graduation ceremony for the 10 girls, who will each receive a $1,500 stipend — more than enough to buy their first drone, as several of the girls said they planned to do.

But more meaningful than the graduation ceremony, and maybe even the stipend: Seven of the 10 girls became FAA-certified commercial drone pilots, chipping away ever so slightly at the field’s gender disparity.

“Every one of them has had their lives changed by the program,” Jim Stone, executive director of the Elementary Institute of Science, said last week. “That is a result of the hard work they put into the program.”

Ahmed agreed while addressing a crowd Thursday during a presentation at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ 2019 Science and Technology Forum and Exposition.

The event was held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego.

“I worked really hard for this, the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life for anything,” Ahmed said of completing the program and passing the grueling 60-question FAA certification exam. “I’m really proud of myself.”

‘We don’t really have a lot of opportunities’

Of the program’s 10 participants, all juniors and seniors between 16 and 18 years old, six attend Morse High, two are from Crawford High, and there is one each from Hoover High and Bonita Vista High.

“The internship for me has been a privilege, because not many girls of color have opportunities regarding the engineering field, especially those coming from low-income areas,” one of the students, who was not identified, said in a video about the program that was presented Thursday at the aeronautics forum.

Montana, who has since transferred to Bonita Vista in the Sweetwater Union High School District, said a history teacher at Morse, her original high school, introduced her and the other participants from that school to the Girls Take Flight program.

“I was originally from Morse, and down there, not a lot of kids have opportunities to do this kind of stuff,” Montana said.

Ahmed agreed: “I’m from Crawford High School. I’m from City Heights, and because of that, we don’t really have a lot of opportunities.”

The chance to become part of Girls Take Flight began last February, first through assemblies and information sessions at schools, and then a more in-depth informational meeting in February at the Elementary Institute of Science. About 65 girls attended, Stone said.

“They were introduced to a number of women who were involved in the drone industry. they were introduced to drone careers and technology, and they were invited to apply for a one-week camp,” Stone told attendees at last week’s forum.

Twenty of the girls attended the camp, which Stone described as a teaser for the full-fledged internship. Half of the camp attendees were then chosen for the 32-week program.

“This is the first program of its kind in California and there is nothing like it in the entire country where high school girls are spending this much time studying and flying drones and earning their FAA remote pilot certification,” Stone said.

“We are excited to have a unique program like this in San Diego,” San Diego Unified School Board member Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said in a statement. “This is the kind of thing that can have a powerful impact and change a person’s life.”

Read the full article here.


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