It was a happy landing for Elizabeth Youngberg in becoming Cleburne High School’s first student to achieve the Federal Aviation Administration 107 Drone Pilot Certification.
Youngberg, an incoming junior, was among several CHS engineering students to undergo the industry-standard FAA exam just prior to the end of the school year.
As a member of the Engineering Design I class, offered through the Career and Technical Education program, she received instruction and hands-on experience with classroom drones, which included the construction and programming of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The study and operation of drones has also been added to the curriculum in Cleburne’s advanced Law Enforcement and Public Safety classes, as students learn about their utilization in search and seizure and rescue operations.
“I’m very interested in a career in engineering,” Youngberg said. “I have had the opportunity to ‘play’ with a drone, but what we have learned, and what we did in class is much cooler than what you can do with a recreational drone.
“I was the youngest taking the certification test — everyone else was a junior or senior. I guess being the only sophomore, I was hopeful I would pass, but my expectations weren’t really high. But I tried as hard as I could. Shortly after we finished the certification test we were given our results. I jumped for joy — I was so happy — and very proud of myself.”
Youngberg said she has grown up with an inquiring mind —wanting to know the how and why.
“I’ve always been interested in how things work,” she said. “It’s baffling to me and I want to understand. The more I learn, the more I want to know. The 107 pilot certification allows me to operate a drone weighing less than 50 pounds. Now I’m thinking of working towards the license to operate a large unmanned drone.”
Engineering teacher Roel Peña is pleased to have a certified drone pilot among his students. The drone opportunity was added to the CTE course offerings in 2019-20 following Cleburne’s selection as one of ten high schools in the region to share a $700,000 federal grant as participants in the North Central Texas Aerial Robotics STEM initiative.
Class sets of drones, from the very basic as participants enter the program, to a $25,000 unmanned aircraft for advanced training are used in hands-on instruction in preparing students for the certification test.
“It’s been an honor to provide students, including Ms. Youngberg, with the opportunity to explore being a drone a pilot,” Peña said. “I’m glad her hard work now provides her this certification. Passing the FAA 107 Remote Pilot Test is quite an achievement.”
Career and Technical Education Director Mark McClure believes the availability of a drone pilot program at CHS is a great opportunity for students, with the growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles in a variety of fields, from transportation to the service industry.
Cleburne CTE recently produced a video involving students, teachers and Superintendent Dr. Kyle Heath showing the use of drones in the food and customer service industries. The video is posted on the CISD Facebook page.
“The use of drones is expanding at a very fast pace and we are excited to be engaging our students in this emerging field where truly the sky is the limit,” McClure said. “There is already a growing demand for employees with the skills and certification that Elizabeth has mastered. We are giving our students the opportunity to be trained for future jobs, some that may not even exist right now.”
In addition to her successful navigation through the drone certification exam, Youngberg was also a member of Cleburne’s Technology Student Association VEX Robotics team that advanced to the state level in skills competition.
Team members, who also included Kayden Finley, Bryce Valle and Emily Day placed first at the TSA Regional contest and were awarded the Best in Division award in qualifying for the state level of competition.
“Elizabeth has consistently been a top student, starting last year in the Principles of Engineering class and continuing into her studies this year in Engineering Design I,” Peña said. “She has a thoughtful approach that she brings to the table, no matter the topic or challenge.”
In earning her “wings” as a drone pilot, Youngberg also views the achievement as a point in the win column for girls with an interest in science and STEM.
“I don’t think we have enough women in engineering or the science field,” she said. “I was the only girl who took the certification test that day and the only girl in the drone program at CHS. I’m hoping there will be more next year.”
In the meantime, she is enjoying the moment and her new-found role of “pilot.”
“While I may be Cleburne High School’s first certified drone pilot, I know more are coming. Right now, I’m enjoying the moment,” she said. “I just turned 16 and only have a learner’s permit to drive a car — but I’m a licensed drone pilot. That’s pretty cool.”