Grant Will Help Trumbull Drone Program Reach New Heights

NILES, Ohio – Robert Marino, assistant superintendent of the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, said a former student recently thanked him for his part in bringing the drone racing program to his school, saying it led to his decision to start training at the Pittsburgh Aeronautical Institute after graduation.

“That in and of itself is justification for this program,” Marino said. “That one kid – this can lead to generations of kids.”

When Ed Mackiewicz, supervisor of curriculum and instruction for classroom technology at the Trumbull County ESC, brought the idea for the drone program to Marino four years ago, it seemed a long way off. But last year, 15 county high schools competed in the drone racing program, including Brookfield High School, which excelled at the national level.

“We’re providing students across northeast Ohio the opportunity to excel in the STEM field,” said U.S. Rep. David Joyce of Bainbridge Township, R-14th. “When you show kids the possibilities of what their futures can be, there’s no stopping them.”

Joyce was in Niles at the Trumbull County ESC with former U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan on Monday to present a $650,000 grant through the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

The money is not just going to fund the drone racing program for Trumbull students. That is only one part. The Dronepreneur program will have three others.

One will be a partnership with Trumbull County Career & Technical Center. Students will have the opportunity to gain the skills to obtain their FAA Part 107 drone license and other licenses. TCTC Superintendent Jason Gray said the program will offer students industry credentials, which could lead to future training or career opportunities in an in-demand career field.

Through the Trumbull County Advanced Unmanned Air Mobility Center, students will be able to learn skills through a drone pathway, which will include drone research, development and testing.

Secondly, a pre-apprenticeship program will be available for Trumbull County students at high schools. There will be kits for schools interested in participating.

Mackiewicz said Howmet Aeronautics in Niles is interested in working with some high school pre-apprenticeship students, and he is interested in forming additional partnerships.

Third, an Entrepreneurship Education and Industry Awareness program will be created through Vista AST and the ESC for students in grades six through eight, giving them an early start in learning about entrepreneurship, job readiness skills and the aeronautics industry.

Mackiewicz believes the Drone Racing League will expand this year with the possibility of training teachers and coaches for all 22 schools in Trumbull County.

“There is so much more to this program than just sitting down and doing something cool with a controller and a drone,” said Mackiewicz, describing the racing league.

Partnering with Drones in Schools, the program provides an opportunity for students to design, build and repair their drones, market their team through branding while approaching sponsors, engineer new parts and replace a broken frame by printing them on a 3D printer.

Joyce points out investments like the Dronepreneur program in Trumbull County can do more than help students. It can help ensure that more drones and drone parts are made here in the U.S. with American technology.

“For the past decade, jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries have grown three times that of non-STEM industries,” Joyce said. “Occupations in these fields are poised to dominate the 21st-century workforce, and our students should have the tools and resources necessary to be qualified to fill them.”

Ryan talked about the importance of investments to help local communities grow in the new sectors of economy, including the Voltage Valley. For Ryan, programs like Dronepreneur are just another first step and can excite students to learn STEM skills and help the education system compete with cellphones for attention.

“This is a real joy to watch this continue to unfold,” said Ryan, who was involved in finding the money and starting the process while still in office. “I’m thrilled that the teachers and coaches and schools are going to have something really cool, because I think that is part of the modern education system to have cool stuff for our kids. They are online. They are getting things delivered to them in such a cool way. If the education system is not trying to engage them at that level, then we’re not going to be successful.”

Pictured at top: From left are Jason Gray, Trumbull County Career & Technical Center superintendent; Julie Michael Smith of Vista AST and America Makes; Stacy Foster, Trumbull County Educational Service Center treasurer; Robert Marino Jr., assistant superintendent, curriculum and instruction at the Trumbull County ESC; former U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan; U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, R-14th; Michael Hanshaw, Trumbull County ESC superintendent; Ed Mackiewicz, supervisor of curriculum and instruction at the Trumbull County ESC; Michele Timmons, founder and CEO of EnvisionEdPlus; and Tricia Moore, chief operations and engagement officer of EnvisionEdPlus.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.