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Drone flying with student behind it

TU Pilots Brings STEM Majors Together

  • By: Victoria Lawson
  • Published:
Drone from TU Pilotd

Taylor STEM majors are curious, innovative students who use all the resources they can as an educational investment in their futures. They conduct widespread research, ask deep and thoughtful questions, pursue step-by-step processes and go one step further than what’s required.

Senior Computer Engineering major Calvin Ochs entered Taylor with two years of experience building, programming, and flying drones. His search for extracurriculars in this interest area inspired him to lead a club on campus—TU Pilots—which brings multiple majors together to work with drones and remote control planes. He and his team are proud of the progress they’ve made in growing the club and are grateful for the experience they’ve gained.

Exploring New Horizons

When Ochs approached Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Stefan Brandle about creating a club around drones, Brandle encouraged him to pursue the idea. Ochs brainstormed a few goals for the club, which initially included building and programming drones, learning the aerodynamics of how drones stay in the air, and exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI) flight. The club also reviews US rules for drone flight so they can fly responsibly.

Since then, TU Pilots has grown from five people from Calvin’s residence hall to a team of over 15 members from a variety of majors. While most of the members are STEM students, the club has also reached out to Film and Media Production majors interested in drone photography and videography. 

Ochs said he has enjoyed the support of professors who helped make TU Pilots a reality. He appreciates how he can always approach his professors with a problem because they are willing to work through it with him.

“Every professor I have been in contact with on the engineering side and computer science side has been more than open and willing to help with TU Pilots and other projects that I've been working on, whether they're for class or not,” Ochs said. “One of the things I've really, really loved about the CSE department and Taylor STEM is just how many projects are hands-on and how much that's encouraged.”

TU Pilots is now in the initial phases of adding drone racing to the club’s opportunities. Ochs said their next steps will be qualifying for a college drone racing league. 

Let’s Talk Technology

As a Computer Engineering major, Ochs loves the building and design aspect of the club. He finds both the mechanical and electrical circuit building sides rewarding and is currently working on a custom flight controller they can program from the ground up.

Junior Computer Science major Isaac Wickham believes TU Pilots is not only fun but relevant. He is the vice president of TU Pilots and said a level of drone knowledge is helpful for anyone interested in a career in technology. 

Wickham was exposed to electronics, robots, programming and technological language from a young age, as he had been involved in a robotics club since fifth grade. He joined the drone club to continue pursuing his passion and hopes to continue drone and RC plane involvement in the future. 

“The way the world is going with technology, there's a massive need for students in STEM,” Wickham said. “We're going to need more people who can understand how to program, more people who can understand the engineering behind X, Y or Z, more people who can do advanced mathematics… the world needs more people like that.”

Wickham added that a background in drone flying can be helpful in several contexts. Drones can be used in agriculture to survey the land, for example, or for entertainment like the light shows performed by Intel. 

For Junior Computer Science and Mathematics major Jeff Jewitt, TU Pilots is an outlet for anyone with a programming hobby. Jewitt is the club software lead and has a special interest in AI autonomous drone flight. 

Using Python, Jewitt wants to program his drone to interpret the world and adapt to what it sees through a video feed—for example, to tracking a red ball and moving toward the red pixels that appear on the screen. His goal is to fly drones with minimal human manipulation through a controller. 

The Sky’s the Limit for STEM Majors

Jewitt joined TU Pilots his freshman year. Now, as a sophomore, he believes the experience he’s already gained at Taylor played a part in his acceptance to an internship with Amazon.

“When I first toured here, Taylor's computer science department really stuck out to me because of all the projects that they work on,” Jewitt said. “I'd read about their satellite projects and I'd seen the drone room and it seemed like Taylor's comp sci department is really hands-on. Working with TU Pilots and working on the satellite project this last spring and this fall were big contributors to my development and putting what I've learned into practice.”

Ochs, Wickham, and Jewitt’s advice for students considering a career in STEM is to try new things, even if those new things are opportunities they create for themselves. They also emphasized the value of real-world experience for resumes and personal development.

“Taylor has definitely prepared me well for my Amazon internship,” Jewitt said. “The more projects you do and the more you put into practice, the better you'll succeed in the workplace.”