GREELEY — Beginning this fall, Aims Community College will offer an associates of applied science degree for operators of unmanned aerial systems, the first such degree offered in Colorado.
Aims is the 15th two-year college nationwide to offer a degree in this field for prospective drone operators.
The program will prepare students to take the Federal Aviation Administration small Unmanned Aerial Systems certification exam and obtain the basic credentials to fly drones professionally. The new program takes things to the next level as the industry expands.
“It provides students with the basics of flying with professional-level drones and the ability to build and program their own drones,” said UAS chief instructor pilot Jake Marshall.
In the last few years, demand for UAS expertise has increased substantially, he said. “We just grew. Students, high schools and the community wanted more.”
The Aims Unmanned Aircraft Systems Sciences program also cultivates opportunities for students to gain experience, such as working on mapping construction sites for Weld County and filming regional television commercials.
“Students are involved with some extracurricular projects beyond just the class we offer,” Marshall said. “We’re building up this case for the need, and now we’re adding the classes to support all this.”
The home to this new degree will be in the Gateway Building under construction at Aims’ expanded Windsor campus. The new building, which is scheduled to open in January, will feature a drone fabrication and design lab. The campus is also adding a drone takeoff and landing pad area.
“The classroom is set up to help with data production and understanding the post-production process of collecting all this data,” Marshall said. “This facility allows our students to design and build drones and test them.”
Marshall said he believes that people who love technology, have an entrepreneurial spirit and are adaptable to change will thrive in a UAS career.
“You’re going to be a part of the pioneer stage of the industry,” he said. “I want our students to be leaders and part of the next evolution of drones to accomplish our societal needs.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has predicted an average annual job growth rate of 24.7%, and market research shows an estimated increase of 100,000 drone-related jobs by 2025. The average annual salary for a UAS operator is $80,000 per year.
“There are some established companies, and new ones are starting up every single day,” Marshall said. “They all need pilots to take their companies to the next level.”
More information about the program is online at aims.co/UAS.