Gautier High School is the home of a pilot program for an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) class that will eventually be a part of the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU) curriculum list for career and technical education (CTE) classes in the state.
According to the class instructor, David Weigle, who also teaches engineering, Gautier is actually piloting the pilot curriculum that will eventually be offered to select schools in Mississippi. The class is the first in the state, and he is the first one in the state to teach it.
“Unmanned Aerial Systems is a fast growing industry in the country and many others,” Weigle said. “I’m excited to be on the forefront of getting to pioneer this new class. It’s been fun learning about the unmanned aircraft, learning how to build and program a drone and program autonomous missions.”
The class goes into all unmanned aircraft types and focuses on the entire system that gets the craft into the air – computers, ground stations and so on.
For this pilot program, Weigle is teaching two, year-one classes – one of Gautier students and one of Pascagoula students that get brought over. The classes began in August and will last the entire school year with a maximum of 12 students each for safety reasons and due to the one-on-one flight instruction.
Other states already have programs in UAS and Weigle said, “It is important that we offer our students in Mississippi the same opportunities.” There are many colleges in the country offering four-year degrees in UAS, and Jones Community College has been offering an associate degree in it for the past six years.
Weigle said that the uses for unmanned aircraft, such as drones, are growing and can include everything from power/gas/construction inspection to police surveillance or search and rescue. They can be used to observe wildlife, inspect crops, and even to see what areas need the most help after hurricanes. The list goes on and on.
“Mississippi State University is one of the few universities in the country that is doing research in unmanned flight,” Weigle said. “This, along with the amount of open land available in Mississippi – our state has an opportunity to take the lead in this exciting, fast developing industry. So it only makes sense to start offering it at the high school level.”
Weigle believes that Guatier High School was chosen to pilot the program due to the amount of industry on the coast, the amount of land in the area, and the school’s safe distance from an airport.
“The Pascagoula-Gautier School District is very excited to be piloting the first Unmanned Aerial Systems program for high school students in the state of Mississippi as we work to transition both Gautier High School and Pascagoula High School into Career Academies,” said Boyd West, PGSD assistant superintendent of secondary education. “These kinds of classes will give students more in-depth, hands-on career experiences and steer students toward a career path they are interested in and can pursue once they graduate from high school.”
For the class, Weigle is also bringing in experts from the area who work in the unmanned aircraft field to speak to the class. He will also have a committee of people in the industry to be sure he’s preparing the students correctly and teaching them what they need to learn to be successful when they get out of high school. He wants to be sure the class mimics what is actually done in the industry.
The plan is to continue the class into the 2019-2020 school year by teaching the second year of the curriculum to the current students and adding another first-year class. Weigle said that other schools in Mississippi will also begin teaching the curriculum to their students.
According to Weigle, the class is a partnership with MSU, and they are working on dual credit options and some other things for the local students.
For more information about the UAS and MSU, visit the MSU website.