|  October 21, 2014  |  
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$750,000 grant to support unmanned aircraft project in high schools

Students in four Alaska high schools will learn to use unmanned aerial vehicles as part of a new science and education project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The project, dubbed “The Modern Blanket Toss,” is funded by a three-year $750,000 National Science Foundation grant to the Alaska Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, also known as Alaska EPSCoR, and the UAF Upward Bound Program.

“We named this project after the Native tradition of the blanket toss, which enabled people to expand their horizons beyond their immediate surroundings,” said John Monahan, UAF Upward Bound director and project leader. “We want this project to do the same thing – literally, by giving students a bird’s-eye view of their communities, and figuratively, by exciting them about college and about STEM careers.”

The goal of the project is to increase the students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields as they undertake projects that are useful to their communities. The project will draw 60 low-income, prospective first-generation college students from high schools in the communities of Shishmaref, Bethel, Nikiski and Seward. They will attend Upward Bound’s residential summer program on the Fairbanks campus and learn about UAV use, science communication and leadership, in addition to studying the program’s general curriculum. Instruction will include classroom modules and hands-on experiences, including field trips to UAF’s Poker Flat Research Range.

All four schools will be provided with Arducopter quad-rotor UAVs, as well as GoPro cameras and GPS tracking devices. During the academic year, students — with the guidance of local and remote Upward Bound staff — will participate in activities and instruction centered around the UAVs, including guest speakers and virtual field trips. The four schools will share their experiences and results online and, as they gain experience, students will participate in activities such as simulated search-and-rescues, charting sea ice and data collection for a NASA aviation safety project.

Each school year will culminate in a large-scale mapping project, which will be chosen and designed based on student and community members’ input. Students will present project results at community meetings and other events, including a workshop during the final summer of the program in which results will be exhibited for a group of educators from around the nation. Students will also create a series of videos describing stages of the project.

Funding for the project is through the NSF EPSCoR Track-3 program, which is supporting projects nationwide designed to interest members of underrepresented minority groups in STEM fields. EPSCoR was established by Congress to distribute research awards to areas of the country that have traditionally received smaller amounts of federal research funding. Thirty-one states and territories now receive or are eligible for EPSCoR funds. Alaska EPSCoR is a statewide UA program headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

ON THE WEB:

Alaska EPSCoR - http://www.alaska.edu/epscor/

UAF Upward Bound - http://ub.community.uaf.edu/

NSF EPSCoR - http://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/programs/epscor/about.jsp

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