TOWAOC — At the Ute Mountain Ute Learning Center, a dozen Native Americans crowd around tables full of half-built, remote-control drones during a spring break technology workshop Thursday.
Instructor Jay Knight is showing students how to build and program the drones as part of an expanded training program to inspire Native American youths to consider high-tech careers.
It is the first of many technology classes, workshops and internships funded by a $2.5 million SEEDS grant awarded to the tribe from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Teaching them how these things work gives them an appreciation and respect for engineering, and hopefully sparks an interest,” Knight said.
The workshop was put on by the Powerhouse Science Center based in Durango.
“It’s hands-on, ambush learning,” said Powerhouse scientist Sarah Margoles. “They’re learning about flight, circuitry, soldering, and computer programing.”
Some of the applications for drones are aerial photography, land surveying, product delivery and even search-and-rescue missions, said Knight.
“The kids really like it and are really paying attention,” he said. “I’m impressed they came to a class during spring break!”
Learning about drones was a first for the students, ranging in age from 10 to 17.
“It’s challenging but fun, you have to be patient to understand how all these wires, motors, and batteries work together,” said Maddie Begay, of Towaoc.
High school student Ondalan Wells appreciates learning about the meticulous and complex nature of the drones’ internal workings.
“This is really interesting. I’d like to go into the mechanical engineering field and plan to work on satellites,” he said.
Sarah Begay, college transition coordinator for the Learning Center, says part of the plan is to place students in internships within different tribal science and engineering departments.
“We’re fostering an interest, then we get them into workplace skills and computer classes to try and transition them into good paying careers,” Begay said.
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