Florida high school offers “Drone Team Pink” UAV program

After the closing school bell at Choctawhatchee High School rings, the track team whizzes by the field. Overhead, something’s whirring.

It’s a drone, and it’s being operated by someone like 16-year-old sophomore Dharbi Jens or 17-year-old senior Jojo Parrett.

“My friends on the track team run by and see us flying and say, ‘wow, can I give it a go?’”, Jens said. “I think they’re pretty jealous.”

Photo courtesy of Sean McSheehy

Photo courtesy of Sean McSheehy

It’s something any adult who has a drone now would be jealous of: Choctawhatchee High School has its own drone team called Drone Team Pink.

The high school is one of a handful in the nation that offers private pilot training, engineering, and aviation legislation and regulation.

The group is led by Sean McSheehy, who teaches an Intro to Aviation course for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Worldwide at the Fort Walton, Florida high school, which allows high school students to get college credit. Drone Team Pink meets for about two hours once a week and is specifically focused on getting young women involved in STEM education while providing opportunities for students of all levels to fly drones.

“Women aren’t really represented in the STEM field,” Jens said. “We had a 3D printer in our school, and it’s just so fun flying drones.”

Some of the students were involved in 3D printing process, and they fly drones down at the soccer field with McSheehy.

“It’s a lot of hands-on work,” Jens said.

Senior Dana Heintzelman, 18, was involved in the 3D printing process.

“In our engineering department, we have 3D printers. You need to have a model and all the dimensions of what you’re trying to print,” she said. “A prop guard for DJI took about 2.5 hours.”

Oh, and the airframes were made using pink filament.

“Even if you don’t want to go into aviation or engineering, it’s important to learn,” Heintzelman said.

That goes for Heintzelman as well. Her goal is to be a doctor or researcher. But for her, learning how to 3D print pieces of drones is an invaluable step ahead when it comes to achieving her goals in medicine.

“People are 3D printing things like organs,” she said. “It’s cool that I get to start working on a 3D printer now.

For Parrett, flying drones professional isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

“I never imagined this as a potential job when I was a kid,” she said.

Jens doesn’t see herself as an engineer, but rather in a communication field, such as journalism, but she comes from a long line of aviation family history.

“My grandpa was an airplane engineer and my dad works on an air force base,” she said. “It’s embedded in me.”

Jens says she plans to use a drone in her future career, and has already used a drone to get footage for journalism projects.

Photo courtesy of  Sean McSheehy

Photo courtesy of
Sean McSheehy

“It’s like the Wild West,” McSheehy said. “These girls are coming back to me with ideas for things they’ve researched that they want to use a drone for.”

The group has big plans, with competitions and a possible trip to visit Google in the works.

“It’gs going to be busy,” Jens said.

Parrett says she hopes groups like this will encourage more young women to get into STEM fields, noting that being a part of Drone Team Pink has made her more comfortable with all fields of sciences and technology.

“Girls, we are totally capable of anything,” she said. “If I can get a drone up in the air, I can get through Algebra II.”

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