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Aiming high: Drone Badge Program looks to educate next airborne generation

The letter accompanying the license for every newly minted, Federal Aviation Administration-approved drone pilot bears the likenesses of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

And in the world being imagined by the Creighton University RaD Lab, linking unmanned drone aviation to the fathers of manned flight means something. This semester, the RaD Lab will help Creighton become one of the nation’s first universities to offer the Drone Badge Program, a five-week course resulting in drone pilot licensure and an entirely new line on student’s résumé or curriculum vita.

“Drones have come a long way in a short time and we’re still asking ourselves what they can do, how they can best serve the public interest,” said Ryan Cameron, senior director of innovation and research and development at the RaD Lab. “They can plant forests, observe dam structures. There are groups in Houston using them to survey hurricane damage. And Creighton is a unique place to think about what the next uses are. They will find the ways to use drones to help make the world a better place.”

The Creighton Drone Badge Program will give students, faculty, staff and community members an opportunity to learn more about drones, earn their drone pilot’s license and take part in additional training sessions with the University’s Omaha-based partner in the project, Oracle Aviation.

The five-week badge program has three parts. For the first two weeks, students will work online, readying themselves for the FAA’s drone pilot’s license examination, which they will take at the two-week mark.

The following two weeks of the course will take place on an online drone flight simulator, adjusting to controls and other dynamics before the students spend the last week, specifically the last two days, in an actual, onsite drone flight at Millard Airport, headquarters of Oracle Aviation.

“Drones are a very impactful technology, especially in Nebraska, where there are an increasing amount of application for land management,” said Kathy Craig, an innovation analyst with the RaD Lab who is overseeing the badge program. “From agriculture to water quality to inspections, there’s a need there and we want to give students an extra set of skills that can help them step into that demand.”

Signups for the first Drone Badge Program classes are slated to begin soon, with the first online portions of the course beginning in mid-October.

“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, offering innovative continuing education opportunities for students,” Cameron said. “It’s the next step of growth for the RaD Lab and we’ve had overwhelming support from the faculty and the administration and the partners we’ve had in the community. Creighton has recognized this as an opportunity to enhance the student experience and bring positive social impact using drones. We look forward to seeing how to step up our skills development badges in the years to come.”

Along with the Drone Badge Program, the RaD Lab also hopes to pilot badge programs in design thinking and bioinformatics.

“Badge programs are ways for students to demonstrate their interest and desire to be well prepared for the next steps in their education and careers,” Craig said. “They are the kind of credential a potential employer or academic program is interested in seeing.”

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Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.