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Young Howard students build, fly drones with help from Baltimore professionals

Lisa Philip
Contact ReporterHoward County Times
Students in the Forest Ridge Apts. Black Student Achievement Program asked daily, "Where's the drone guys?"

When Woudjeenie Bruno, an upcoming fifth-grader at Stevens Forest Elementary School, found out she was going to be making drones this summer, she thought it would be "really cool."

"And it really is," she said.

For the past four weeks, Woudjeenie and six other elementary and middle school students in the Forest Ridge Apartments Black Student Achievement Program have learned how to build and operate the flying machines with help from Austin Brown, Enobong Umoh and Reginald Grant of Global Air Media, a Baltimore-based aerial surveying and photography company.

"We learned about the forces and we learned about the parts of the drones," Woudjeenie said. "And that they're very sensitive, and there's a lot of wires to making the drones."

The Howard County school system's Black Student Achievement Program, which sponsored the camp, was founded 30 years ago to narrow the achievement gap between black students and the larger student population through mentoring and after-school and summer programs.

Each day the students participated in classroom and workshop-building activities as well as outdoor flying time, said Umoh, a cofounder of Global Air Media. He calls the curriculum, which his company had previously brought to communities in Baltimore City, drone-enabled STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.

"We like to split up the days evenly so they actually get the educational side of it. They learn everything from lift, force, thrust and drag, Bernoulli's Principle — all kinds of scientific-related terms to drones," Umoh said. "And we ... take them outside each day to fly and learn how to operate the drones properly."

Students also learned about the different uses for drones, from real estate photography to smog detection to package delivery.

"Once we begin to tell them all the things that drones can do, they just latched on," Umoh said.

Oakland Mills Middle School student Jaylen Lott said that if he had to pick a career in the drone industry, he would choose to be a drone pilot.

"Because I like to be in control," said the eighth-grader.

Sharon Fulton, the site coordinator of the Black Student Achievement Program's learning center at the Forest Ridge Apartments, said that the kids couldn't wait for drone time each day.

"The kids couldn't finish their lunch: 'Where's the drone guys? Where's the drone guys?'" she said. "We had to close the door, so they wouldn't see them come in, because the kids were so excited."

On Thursday, at the last session of drone camp, the students showed off their drone-piloting skills to friends and family. A couple flew larger drones almost 400 feet up into the air.

"It was kind of cool seeing it crash, because we learned new things about what we should do and what we shouldn't do, when it crashes," Woudjeenie said.

Umoh said that the kids can apply the skills they learned in the summer camp to other STEM fields.

"And hopefully they can go on and choose careers that they like based off of that," he said.

Fulton was just happy that the program was interesting.

"Because a lot of these kids, they don't get to do anything," she said. "So at least they had something, like a big plate of food, something they could go back to school and talk about."

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