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June 15, 2018 

Riversprings Middle School became home away from home to faculty members from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and PAEC (Panhandle Area Educational Consortium) personnel on June 12, 13, and 14.

Faculty provided the “Unmanned Systems STEM Summer Challenge” to a group of 64 middle and high school students from Wakulla, Gadsden, and Liberty Counties.  

The event was provided at no cost to participating students through an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University partnership with the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium. PAEC coordinated all aspects of project activities. Wakulla District Schools, another project partner, provided space and technical support for the challenge activities. 

The three-day STEM Challenge (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) began with students being divided into flight squadrons districts and then into flight crews of three.   Students were led by STEM teachers from the participating school districts.

Teachers David McBrayer from Riversprings Middle School and Melissa Martin from Wakulla Middle School worked alongside Embry-Riddle faculty as two of the flight commanders for the challenge.  

Over the course of the three days, crews took part in a series of academically challenging and fast-paced rotations where they were required to fly mini-drones live using sky controllers and learn and apply computer coding skills to navigate aerial and terrestrial drones.  

Each day, the skill-demand of the activities increased and on day three crews used first person view headsets to fly live through an obstacle course and coded aerial and terrestrial devices to autonomously navigate a variety of routes and obstacle courses and carry out simulated tasks paralleling real-world uses of autonomous aerial systems.  

Crews also designed, constructed, and raced a hovercraft and, like NASA flight crews, each designed their own unique, symbolic three-dimensional crew patch.  

Students also had the opportunity to engage with Sam Harris, Assistant Professor and Regional Manager from Gaetz Aerospace Institute at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and with Gulf Coast State College Assistant Professor Tony Lopez, who brought an array of high-tech tools students learned to use in each school’s unmanned systems program.  

The purpose of the STEM Challenge event is to engage students in STEM education and inform them of career opportunities, primarily in the areas of aerospace and engineering.  

Opportunities for high-wage employment in these career areas continues to grow as unmanned or autonomous systems gain in sophistication, applications expand, and the demand for new systems and operators grows.

Financial impact totals in the billions of dollars across military, commercial, personal, and technology sectors.