Illinois Central College is bringing drone programming to the classroom. At the historically agricultural-focused institution, Blake Lehman, Associate Professor of Agriculture, is looking to bring agronomy education into the 21st century with courses tailored towards expanding students’ knowledge of precision agriculture and with it, drone technology. To prepare students for the workforce, Professor Lehman teaches career-specific classes introducing his pupils to new technology in the autonomous machinery space. From learning about site-specific crop management or higher resolution crop health, to monitoring different crops during the growing season and understanding flight plans, to pulling out images for further inspection, DroneDeploy serves as Professor Lehman’s essential learning tool. Through DroneDeploy’s Drones for Good partnership with ICC, we’re expanding drone use pre-graduation, in order to expand students’ career options within agriculture.
Seeing students who didn’t have any prior knowledge of precision agriculture develop a promising career is the most rewarding.”
Blake Lehman, Associate Professor of Agriculture, Illinois Central College
How Students Use Drone Technology in the Classroom
Illinois Central College offers a two-year precision agriculture program that hosts students from all walks of life, but namely those who have been raised in the farming world. In such a traditional industry, these students have likely not been exposed to autonomous technology or remote sensing, despite recent advancements in the field. This makes the program all the more critical, as Professor Lehman explains, “This curriculum brings students together from different backgrounds and teaches them a combined set of skills - in the summer, we fly fields they’re already familiar with, to help with both planting and crop scouting.” Luckily, the college has 12 defined areas amassing over 70 acres that students can scour from the air. These trial flights allow them to practice shooting aerial imagery, and analyzing crop health.
Professor Lehman tells us that after the first two weeks of his class, students are already proficient in hardware setup and flight plan creation. “DroneDeploy is very user-friendly,” he states, “so my students are able to understand the software and apply it very early on.” Some standard use cases include comparing and contrasting field maps, experimenting with remote sensing, and studying for their Part 107 licenses.
The Growing Trend of Drone Use in Agriculture
While the subject of agronomy has always been favored, the precision agriculture major is increasing in popularity with Illinois Central College students. Professor Lehman attributes this to the hands-on experience students receive when they take these courses. While he’s excited about how far the program has come, Professor Lehman also recognizes the significant hurdles that still need to be jumped in terms of exposure - for many, they’re simply unaware this technology exists. Still, this uptick in drone interest from students of all levels shows how far the technology has already come within the education sector, and where they may lead it in the future. Already, Illinois Central College and a neighboring high school, Eureka, have set up a pathway and introductory course for agricultural drone program management.
A Mutually Rewarding Program for Students & Teachers
Professor Lehman finds teaching students about drones and their utilization as rewarding for him as it is for his students. He says, “When a student can go out and have a drone set up in 5 minutes, create a map flight, fly the field, and 15 minutes later, have crop health images in front of them, I witness how important and gratifying this process can be.” What excites Professor Lehman most about his job are the students themselves. He recalls one incident in which a local co-op, Evergreen FS, employed his former students for crop scouting and drone analysis post-graduation. “This program can lead them into a lifelong career path in drone technology,” Professor Lehman shares.
We’re excited to continue our work in the education field and expand drone technology access to students around the country. If you’re interested in drone use in agriculture, watch our webinar on remote sensing with aerial insights, or apply to be one of our DroneDeploy.org partners.