More than 300 high school students witnessed their work take flight at the 2023 Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation Aerial Drone Dragonfly Championship at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia.
Through its contribution to the Fairmont Foundation, Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company, supported this year’s event and five teams of underrepresented students with a goal to build diverse representation in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce. Employees also volunteered their time to support the event and answer questions from students.
The REC Foundation’s Aerial Drone Competition focuses on providing hands-on, student-centered learning for school-aged students. The two-day event hosted 62 teams from across the country and provided students with the opportunity to learn about flight principles, programming, and engineering while promoting the understanding of and interest in STEM-related fields.
“Working with these students is particularly rewarding because of their passion and excitement for aviation and aerospace,” said Paige Skaggs, Aurora team member and event volunteer. “In addition to learning more about the field of engineering, these events help students develop various life skills including communication, collaboration, and time management. I have no doubt that they will continue to make a positive impact in the industry.”
In preparation for the event, teams built drones to compete in this year’s Mission 2023: Blackout competition. The students also had the opportunity to write their own code for the autonomous flight skills portion of the competition.
Teams competed in two categories during the event: piloting teamwork and autonomous flight skills. During the piloted competition, teams competed in a two-minute match on the competition field, trying to score points by moving balls through an obstacle course and into goals. In the autonomous flight skills match, teams used pre-coded commands to send their drone through an obstacle course while completing additional tasks. Teams had 60 seconds to score points by taking off, autonomously navigating through a course, removing balls from the starting line, and landing on a designated landing pad.
The event is supported by the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Program’s Education Resource Center (ERC), which aims to strengthen the public understanding of NASA’s missions, build a diverse future STEM workforce, and create unique opportunities for students.
“I love that the Aerial Drone Competition is helping connect students to NASA missions such as Dragonfly, and encouraging them to consider STEM career pathways,” said Todd Ensign, faculty member of Fairmont State University and Program Manager of the NASA IV&V Facility’s Education Resource Center. “This program is also unique because I believe it is recruiting a new population of students who may not otherwise get involved in robotic competitions. Finally, I couldn’t be more proud of our West Virginia students, and coaches, who have taken on this program and are competing at the top of their field at national level.”
Aurora has a long history of working on various initiatives with the ERC in West Virginia, including educational programs and career awareness initiatives. Several Aurora engineers have also supported events and conferences as volunteers and keynote speakers, encouraging students to pursue STEM-related careers.
“STEM education is critical for inspiring and preparing the next generation of engineers and scientists,” said Skaggs. “By empowering students to pursue STEM careers, we can cultivate their curiosity and build a future workforce that will help drive innovation and solve the world’s most pressing challenges.”