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UAS camp lets girls take flight

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Jasmine Vicente keeps an unmanned aircraft hovering Monday during a UAS Camp for girls in the UAS Flight Testing Lab at UND's Robin Hall. The camp, in its first year, not only teaches girls how to fly UAS, but also aims to help them with leadership, teamwork and problem-solving skills. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Leaders of an unmanned aircraft camp tailored toward young girls hope the lessons learned there will help the aspiring pilots with leadership skills, teamwork and more.

Sixty girls ages 8 to 12 got the chance this week at UND's Robin Hall to learn how to fly unmanned aircraft during the first UAS Camp sponsored by the Women's Fund in Grand Forks. Two five-day courses—each allowing 30 girls to attend—gave the attendees first-hand experience on operating small unmanned aircraft systems.

The classes were led by retired Air Force Lt. Col. Amanda Brandt and Lt. Col. Philip Brandt, who both will be assistant professors with the UND School of Aerospace. Amanda Brandt said she wanted to see more women in aviation and wondered if there was an opportunity to expose girls to the possibilities of those career fields.

The camp attendees were given assigned titles, such as mission leaders and specialists, to give the attendees a sense of operations with UAS, often called drones. It also exposes them to robotics, something the Brandts say is needed as technology becomes more integrated in the workplace.

But the assignments have another goal: teaching the girls how to lead, work as a team and solve problems.

"That is the underlying (lesson): You girls have a voice, you need to be vocal, share your thoughts and provide teamwork and leadership," Amanda Brandt said. "It's not just about the flying. The flying is a small part of it."

This is done by holding work sessions in the classroom and working as a team to fly UAS and solve problems, such as figuring out how to position a drone to take a picture of their individual groups.

Some of the girls were hesitant to take on their roles in the first round of the camp, the Brandts said. But by the end of the week, they were working with each other and taking the steps necessary to get their aircraft off the ground.

One girl's drone crashed during a showcase at the end of last week to demonstrate what the participants learned. The Brandts said she kept her cool, retrieved another drone and resumed flying.

"This was a girl who, at the beginning of the camp, was very shy and a little withdrawn," Philip Brandt said. "Every single young lady has the ability to do these tasks. They just need a little confidence push."

The second five-day camp began Monday with a showcase slated for Friday. The girls who attended this year's camp can attend an advanced camp planned for next year.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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