Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  July 2019  >  July 22, 2019  >  Reaching new heights: Creighton welcomes record class for Summer High School Tech Program
Reaching new heights: Creighton welcomes record class for Summer High School Tech Program

Radlab DroneWith a soft whirring sound, the small drone began its ascent, buzzing steadily upward despite a stiff breeze.

“Back up, back up, back up,” advised Jordan Boetcher, manager of Creighton University’s Radlab, to the drone’s pilot, 16-year-old Kai James.

“There. Perfect,” Boetcher said. From 75 feet below, the drone looked like a small dark bird against a blue sky as James maneuvered it in a wide arc across the eastern façade of the Hixson-Lied Science Building. Up in the air, the remote-controlled device recorded aerial footage of the sweep to a micro SD card.

The exercise, Boetcher said, would teach James and his two classmates, Tom Nguyen and Jacqueline Gomez, both 16, how to use drone technology to capture video, which could be used in a number of career fields, including construction surveying and search-and-rescue.

The three teens were part of the Radlab’s Upward Bound tech program, a five-week series of summer classes in innovative technology serving area high school students. As a national effort aimed at helping students achieve college success, Upward Bound in particular serves low-income students and those with parents who did not attend college. This summer marked the third year Creighton’s Radlab has participated in the Upward Bound program. And with about two dozen students enrolled, this year’s class was the largest yet, says Ryan Cameron, EdS, assistant vice provost of digital experience at Creighton.

“This program is one of the many ways the University is supporting the development of tech talent in the region,” Cameron says. “Creighton has a key role to play in addressing an unprecedented demand for technology skills in the future workforce.”

Thanks to broader integration of science and technology coursework into the modern K-12 curriculum, many of the students entering the program already have a solid foundation in basic IT skills, Cameron says. The summer program at Creighton is meant for those students who have demonstrated an interest in pursuing those disciplines at a more advanced level.

“A lot of students, their career aspirations and college aspirations vary widely, but they all have some sort of central technology core to them,” Cameron says. “I think they’re drawn to this program because it gives them the opportunity to do really high-tech things and push on those STEM boundaries a little further.”

This summer’s program was divided into three classes: Two “Innovative IT” classes and Boetcher’s class, which focused specifically on drone aviation. In the general classes, students explored several areas of modern tech, including computer programming, virtual reality and design thinking.

In one exercise, the teens learned how to program Amazon Echo Dots to give custom responses to various questions. Clara Perez, 17, an incoming senior at Burke High School, taught her device how to respond to the question “Should I have dessert?”

“Do you really need all those calories?” the device replied.

“I loved coming to class every time,” Perez says. As an aspiring software developer, the classwork fueled her interest in coding and piqued her curiosity in programming languages such as Java, C++ and Python.

The students in the general technology classes also learned how to pilot and program tiny micro-drones, a topic Boetcher’s students explored in detail for the duration of the summer session.

In the specialized drone aviation class, the students not only learned how to control drones, they also studied all the textbook material necessary to receive a Federal Aviation Administration Remote Pilot Certificate. Toward the end of the program, Boetcher’s class took a field trip to Millard Airport to take the licensing exam.

“We found that there was a definite interest, and so we set out to find students who wanted to do it,” Boetcher says of the course. “There are a lot of students in school now who will have jobs that don’t exist yet. This is a way of taking a job that didn’t exist even five years ago and getting the opportunity to show high school students that this is a possibility and you can actually make money with this.”

For James, who wants to be a commercial airline pilot, the drone program provided an opportunity to explore the aviation industry. Many of the skills he learned over the summer – how to monitor weather conditions, how to communicate via radio and more – are things he will need to know in his future career.

“I like getting to know all this knowledge about airspace and aviation just in general,” James says. “That’s definitely going to help me out whenever I shoot for my pilot’s license.”

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