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At ANSEP camp, Alaska Native students build and fly their own drones

When Kotzebue's Katelyn Dela Rosa learned that she was going to build her own drone, well, she was a little shocked.

"I was thinking to myself how can I build a drone?" she said last week.

Dela Rosa and fellow Kotzebue middle-schooler Tahayla Baker were two of 47 students that took part in a five-day course in Anchorage as part of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program's STEM Career Explorations. (STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math.)

At the camp, held at the University of Alaska Anchorage, students studied the unmanned aerial vehicle career field, which provided them the opportunity to build, test and fly drones while following Federal Aviation Administration safety guidelines.

The students were divided into groups of three and got to practice their flying skills on a simulator before building and testing the real thing.

For Dela Rosa, the most challenging part was soldering the wires on the bottom of the drone, a job that requires a steady hand.

"For me, I was so proud of myself," she said. "I was more careful driving the drone then anytime I flew a store-bought helicopter because I actually built it. I was very excited."

For Baker, 13, trying out the simulator first really helped her get her bearings.

"It helped to practice so we wouldn't be all worried and confused when we actually got to build them," she said on Monday from Kotzebue.

But actually flying the homemade aircraft was still very challenging, she added.

"It was kind of complicated at first but then you got used to it. You had to make really little adjustments or it would fly right across the room."

Baker has been involved in ANSEP since February and has enjoyed meeting new people with similar interests.

"It's a really great experience," she said, adding that camps, like the one in Anchorage, really give her a boost heading into a new school year.

And while she hasn't decided yet, pursuing a career in a STEM field is on her short list, she said.

Led by industry professionals, the unmanned aerial vehicle-building camp was a new component to the ANSEP lineup.

Once completed, students tested the drones with a competition that featured an indoor course. Students had to pick up an object and bring it back to the starting location.

"We're thrilled to provide our students with an innovative, hands-on activity that provides engineering experience in a developing industry in Alaska," said ANSEP Founder and Vice Provost Dr. Herb Ilisaurri Schroeder in a statement. "The UAV activity is just one way we're ensuring our students have the tools needed to be successful future leaders in our state."

ANSEP's STEM Career Explorations component is designed to help students focus on a particular STEM field and enhance dedication and enthusiasm for the ANSEP community and STEM study. Students from 18 communities across Alaska participated in the camp.

Students that took part in the latest camp must have previously completed ANSEP Middle School Academy component and maintained grades that follow ANSEP's academic standards, including being on track to complete Algebra 1 before high school.

"In addition to the academic benefits and career experience gained, students continued to familiarize themselves with the UAA campus and the rigors of college life," according to a release.

This was the third of four STEM Career Exploration sessions that will take place this summer, and a fourth is planned for later this month. To learn more about ANSEP and its components, visit www.ansep.net.

This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is republished here with permission.