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Lifting STEM to new heights

Middle schoolers fly, build and learn about drones at camp

Contact: Curt Smith


​​​​​​In quiet concentration, 20 middle schoolers focused on syncing the tablets in their hands to the sleek black plastic drones sitting in neat rows around the gym. It wasn't long before they had the drones buzzing around Finch Fieldhouse, expertly lifting them into the air and landing them like professional pilots.​

The sixth- seventh- and eighth-graders were on Central Michigan University's campus this week for drone camp. The unique experience was all about practical uses for drones, learning to fly drones and building their own micro-drones.

"We hope this opportunity gives these kids another tool to add to their toolbox," said Dru Wilson, associate professor of engineering and technology. "Many of them are – for the first time – getting to see the process of building a drone as well as learning how and why drones are used."

In addition to flying drones indoors and outdoors, the children will build their own small drones over the course of the weeklong camp. Working from kits, they learned about soldering circuit boards and wiring communications between the drone and the remote.

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​The camp – the only one of its kind in the mid-Michigan area – was held by CMU's Center for Excellence in STEM Education. Julie Cunningham, director of the center, partnered with Wilson and CMU education students from the STEM Education Scholar program.

"It was just as exciting for me to see their faces light up when they had an opportunity to fly these drones as it was to fly them myself," said Josh Belcher, a secondary education junior minoring in math and history.

The Traverse City native said he gained vital experience helping at the camp. Though drones are becoming more mainstream, Belcher and many of the children at the camp had never had the opportunity to fly them.

"It's great to see kids excited about it," Wilson said. "We hope they leave here with that kind of excitement for other topics they come across in science, engineering and technology."

The camp will wrap up Friday, June 24, and plans to visit the Mount Pleasant airport for a demonstration with larger drones.


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