Tech Demo to Encourage Hands - On STEM Learning at Laurel Hill School

What better way to fire up North Okaloosa students for learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) than to let them see it come to life before their very own eyes!

The first of hopefully many more special opportunities for up-close STEM learning was planned for May 11th at the Laurel Hill School with a hi-tech demonstration modified especially for agricultural students. This event allowed students to learn about practical applications to agriculture and other fields.  Students flew mini drones in the classrooms before proceeding outdoors to watch the bigger UAS/ Drones in action.

Enthusiastically requested by local STEM advocates like Paul Hsu and the Crestview Area Chamber’s PHF TEAMS committee, chaired by Dennis Mitchell, this project was led by Sean McSheehy, an educator of Aviation, Engineering and Robotics at Choctawhatchee High School. With the help of Embry Riddle Worldwide Partners and a collaboration team from the UCF Engineering Department, McSheehy was able to expose more students to innovation and technological entrepreneurship.

Choctawhatchee High School is leading a group of students in UAS education and competition through the founding of the U.S. Drone Team. The U.S. Drone Team is modeled to train and inspire students in UAS, and is growing this program to formally offer certification and earned education credits for college. Choctawhatchee believes these programs should be expanded to include all Okaloosa County School District students, particularly students in the North part of Okaloosa County.

“When you witness these students not only learning the technology, but actually developing and harnessing it for themselves… well, there is no greater excitement as an educator,” says McSheehy.  “These kids get locked in and light up. You get a glimpse at how the next Steve Jobs could be right here in Northwest Florida.”

The after-school demonstration at Laurel Hill was open to all students and brought together educators, students and technology professionals to share and experience the next frontier of UAV/Drone Science and the use of 3D printing advances.

“The key is sharing Sean’s ideas and these tech concepts with more kids across the rest of our incredible county. Okaloosa is rich with technological expertise,” remarked Paul Hsu.  “We need to share it with the kids and build partnerships for hands-on learning and inspiration. The students of today are the engineers and inventors of tomorrow.”

Without the technical support of Mark Denney of AREIS and Michael Sullivan of Tactical Data, this project would not have been possible. North Okaloosa is attractively situated in a region where there are many hi-tech engineering businesses. To have skilled and innovative researchers sharing from their experience in such a hands-on manner is a largely untapped value to the student population of North Okaloosa. Working with The Doolittle Institute as a partner, McSheehy credits the aid provided by STEM Outreach Director, Beth Hanning, as instrumental in facilitating relationships between government, industry and education organizations to bring about these special learning opportunities.

This unique demonstration included discussions about local application of UAV technology to the agricultural fields, as Laurel Hill represents a small, rural community where many students join family businesses in agriculture upon graduation. The opportunity exists for these students to come up with innovative solutions which will transform the future of this important industry. Above all, it is so much fun to build and fly a UAV!

To see a complete photo gallery of this event, please visit the OCSD Facebook page.