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The sky’s the limit for Alabama State University GEAR UP drone club students

ASU’s GEAR UP program inspires a new generation of drone enthusiasts with the help of Pitsco

Published February 9, 2024

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Two years after being awarded a $24.7 million federal grant, Alabama State University’s (ASU) Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) is going from strength to strength under the leadership of Project Director, Jia O. Ross, Principal Investigator, Dr. Carl Pettis and Co-Principal Investigators, Dr. Kennedy Wekesa and Dr. Tanjula Petty.

Serving around 4,500 pupils across the Montgomery Public Schools (MPS) district, the program aims to increase the number of low-income students who enter and succeed in postsecondary education. The initiative has been a big hit with its interactive Drone Club proving particularly popular with students.


Initially rolled out across 10 MPS middle schools in the fall of 2022, the GEAR UP Drone Club gives middle and high school students the chance to learn practical skills in drone operation, programming, and maintenance.

“This program provides students with hands-on learning experiences with drones that are not typically found in the traditional classroom setting,” explains GEAR UP Partner Coordinator Imma Sanders. As well as building on their technical knowledge, students are introduced to the occupations and education opportunities in the dynamic and rapidly growing industry of drone technology.

Of course, launching and running any successful STEM club is never easy; finding suitable resources and training club leaders can be especially challenging. Luckily, the GEAR UP team was able to utilize ASU’s existing connections with Pitsco to ensure the process went smoothly. “Alabama State University has a history of working with Pitsco to provide the University with excellent STEM services [. . .] so, we naturally wanted to continue the partnership,” says Sanders.

She particularly liked the way Education Advisor Ronnie Thomas and the rest of the Pitsco team focused on selecting products that aligned with the program’s goals. “They provided thorough insight on the available drone educational kits and resources offered by Pitsco. Factors such as curriculum compatibility, durability of equipment, and industry relevance played a crucial role in the selection process.”


With the support of Pitsco’s drone products and expert tuition, students’ confidence in their technical abilities is soaring. But, as Sanders points out, the positive effects don’t stop there. “The overall impact is not just about technical skills; it’s about shaping well-rounded individuals who are equipped with the skills, mindset, and confidence to thrive in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.”

The initiative has clearly struck a chord with students, educators, and parents alike. The GEAR UP Drone Club is now present and active in 16 MPS schools, with an exciting two-day competition planned for spring 2024.

The competition, which brings together GEAR UP Drone Clubs from different MPS schools, will challenge students’ knowledge of drone operation, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to work as a team. It’s something that would have seemed inconceivable just a few years ago.

For other educators who might be considering launching their own drone club, Sanders has some words of advice: “It is important that you understand the needs and interests of your students and tailor the program to support these, as well as the skills that are in demand within the job market.

“Starting a drone program takes dedication and commitment to providing students with valuable skills for their future careers.” However, as pupils from across the MPS district will testify, the profound and long-lasting impact it has on young people’s lives is undoubtedly worth all the hard work.

Read all articles in our full publication, Hands-On Heroes: CTE Stories of Innovation and Impact.

“One student was carrying his structures project home when he met his mom. He explained what he did and what we would be doing all week. Then, he said, ‘Mom, this was so fun. I can’t wait to come back to school tomorrow.’ In all my 15 years of teaching summer school, I’ve never heard that.”

– Mario Dicarlo, Taylor Elementary, Santa Maria, California

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