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How to start a class on drone innovation

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Drones are defined as an unmanned aircraft that can be guided remotely. Drone Innovation is the concept behind a course originally brought to George Mason University by Jade Garrett, through a collaboration with UIF colleagues at James Madison. It entails both research on, and the development of, drone technologies that assess multi-disciplinary needs. These needs include but are not limited to surveying air pollution, examining oyster populations, or even making films. In essence, the class encourages innovation by hosting expert seminars to teach and apply modern drone technology and fosters creativity by merging the capabilities of drones with various academic fields.


Access to cutting edge technology for a wide range of disciplines.

In several institutions, courses are taught on obsolete technology which fails to educate students on state of the art technology that they will be working with after graduation. The gap created by material taught versus real world applications causes a rift between education and industry. In addition, the current method for approving courses offers little opportunity for growth and change in future years.


To provide courses that offer practical experience and working knowledge of state-of-the-art technology.

Provide a laboratory-style elective that provides hands-on application of state of the art drone technology. This course will incorporate guest speakers, mentorship, access to materials, and human-centered design experience for students. In addition to this, the course will be available to all disciplines. This will foster a collaborative and innovative environment for students to solve real-world problems.


Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the course, it will likely be held at the university level so it is easily accessible to a wide range of students. In addition to this, it will help secure more funding since it is not linked to a single department. In addition to this, it will be offered as an elective to provide more flexibility when creating the curriculum.

The class will be modeled after EPICS (engineering projects in community service, founded at Purdue University). It will involve lectures from experts in the field including various faculty experts. This will be taught in conjunction with a hands-on laboratory where students will design state-of-the-art drones designed to solve real world problems. Experts, professors, and teaching assistants will provide mentorship and serve as guides for students working on projects. The final for the course will be the prototype of a drone that solves a real world problem such as land surveying, tracking migration, tracking pollution, et cetera.


Faculty, student, alumni, and community support are all necessary for the implementation of a class on Drone Innovation. Students embody the need for the course. Without students who are willing to participate in Drone Innovation, the course might as well not exist. There must be a body of students which this will benefit - if that need is not clear then support would be pointless and unattainable. Faculty, alumni, and community support are the means by which the need is fulfilled. Faculty would provide infrastructure and learning resources and the surrounding community (including professionals in the industry) would provide mentorship and technical expertise. Alumni would function as a source of funding on top of grants and institutional financing. They too could step in as mentors, given that they can offer knowledge on the industry they work in.


Funds for a student-run course can be acquired in numerous ways however they are all directly dependent on specific situations in which the class will be held. Below is a list of funding sources:

  1. - a website providing grants for various programs and organizations
  2. Faculty - support from endowed faculty with similar backgrounds
  3. Department - several department driven initiatives are allocated funding (i.e. promotion of innovation or STEM)
  4. Alumni donations
  5. Angel Investors
  6. Makerspaces - to provide space to work
  7. Industry Donations - Various companies may provide training and products to familiarize students with current industry standards

The best way to request funds is to meet face to face with potential donors and explain how the class will benefit them as much as it will benefit the students. This will encourage the donations themselves as well as involvement from investors to ensure the success of the class.


This course would require leaders in the drone industry who have a strong understanding of the current technological capabilities of drones, as to provide a framework for students to pursue their ideas. Having these sorts of professionals creates a clear understanding of the limitations behind drones and their potential for growth when faced with real-world applications. Mentorship with these individuals would be vital in bringing student-led ideas to life. Such a course would require a professor(s) who can foster an environment that encourages creativity across multiple disciplines but remains grounded in the reality of the available technology. This would be a professor(s) who is able to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing technological market, and as such, is constantly molding the curriculum to be just as cutting-edge as this market.


The new innovation class is for everyone and anyone who values up to date technologies and techniques. It is also for anyone brave enough to take on the challenge of changing the current curriculum and replacing it with newer more valuable material.

Lessons Learned

Relationships are key to developing new courses on university campuses. It is important to develop new relationships with influential professors both young and experienced in order to have the volume of resources needed to start a new class. Developing these relationships gives student leaders the ability to understand the ins and outs of university policies. One of the most crucial policies to understand is timing.

Timing can become an obstacle if excitement supersedes planning. It is important to understand the amount of time that change can text within the university context. That may vary from campus to campus but should be something that leaders recognize may not follow a straight line. During these early stages, student leaders will develop a core group pf stakeholders as well. It is important to build this group of stakeholders as ou ramp up to launching your new initiative on campus.

Interdisciplinary course offerings require mutual empathy for students, professor, and support staff. Combining departments can be complicated and student leaders should remind themselves and other with positive reinforcement that friction does not equal dysfunction.

Student Contributors

Kaleia Kramer

Moises Barba

Camille Clark

Hunter Sudek