Summer camp teaches high school students how to fly, build drones

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – High school students recently participated in a summer program at Tennessee State University that taught them how to not only fly a drone, but build one.

Drone pilot and program instructor Wendy Jackson-Dowe, a TSU alum, gives some final direction to student McKenna Harris before flight. (photo by Lucas Johnson, TSU Media Relations)

The initiative is part of a one-week pre-college program at TSU that seeks to encourage high school students to consider STEM careers. Last year, students learned how to design and build an app.

“This year, we decided to do something very innovative,” said College of Engineering Dean Dr. S. Keith Hargrove, who’s been recognized nationally for his contributions as a STEM educator. “And so we have a curriculum whereby students learn to fly a drone, as well as build one.”

About 20 students were enrolled in the summer camp, which ran from July 9-13. A person can become a licensed drone pilot as young as 16.

“It’s estimated there’ll be between 10,000 to 20,000 job opportunities for certified drone pilots over the next several years,” added Hargrove, “and getting kids excited about this at this early age is an opportunity for them to consider.”

Drone built by students. (photo by Lucas Johnson, TSU Media Relations)

The summer drone program was developed by Wendy Jackson-Dowe, a TSU mechanical engineering graduate. She said in just the last five years, drones have become a $127 billion industry.

“Drones are going to be so important to the future,” said Jackson-Dowe. “So I thought it would be great to introduce young people to this burgeoning industry by way of a hands-on camp.”

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the top three verticals right now in a global environment are infrastructure, agriculture and logistics, all of which drones play a part.

Student participants and instructors in drone summer camp. (photo by Lucas Johnson, TSU Media Relations)

“All of those areas touch all of us every day,” said Jackson-Dowe.

McKenna Harris, a freshman at Sycamore High School in Pleasant View, Tennessee, said the camp has her considering a career in the drone industry.

“I was planning to be like a vet or zoologist, but drones are really cool,” said Harris. “They’re changing the world.”

Nashville television station Channel 5 (WTVF) aired a story about the drone program. To see the story, visit

To learn more about TSU’s College of Engineering, visit

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