Learning how to design, build, fix and fly a drone requires the application of all aspects of a STEAM education. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt talks to Stevenson Demorcy about teaching drone technology as part of a STEAM education program. Learn about the development of the drone program, and how it supports students’ real-world use of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematic knowledge.
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Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Welcome to the Exploring STEM podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt. The goal of this podcast is to explore the evolving world of science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM is important because our world depends on it. The economy, our general wellbeing, our future, it’s all defined by a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math. As STEM continues to evolve, this podcast will connect new innovations insights, and provide inspiration by those men and women in our community who are champions of these important issues.
So, today, I am elated that our guest is Stevenson Demorcy, who is the CEO of STEAMed Drones, an aeronautics elective, and afterschool program for adolescents in grades 5-9. Stevenson, graduated from the College of New Jersey with a degree in mathematics and a certification in education.
As he states, “Confucius and I share the same moral philosophy that if your plan is for 100 years, you will educate children.” He has taught every grade from kindergarten to high school seniors. His passion is STEAM, which is science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. And he has experience implementing several STEAM platforms, such as the US First Robotics, Ten80 Education, The New Jersey STEAM Drone Academy, and many more. So, Stevenson, welcome to the podcast. And thank you for joining me.
Stevenson Demorcy: Dr. Kandis, I am honored to be here and sincerely thank you for having me.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: The pleasure is all mine. So, let’s get started. There are so many critical conversations happening today that address drones and drone technology. Can you start the podcast by telling us a little about yourself and why this topic is so dear to your heart?
Stevenson Demorcy: Yeah, just a quick tidbit here. Three months ago, I signed up for this Google Ad situation and the guy called me and tried to get me to register. And the first thing he said to me was, “Hey, STEAMed Drones.” And me I’m like, “Exactly. That is absolutely correct. That is exactly how you pronounce the business.” But, to be honest with you beforehand, it was called STEAM Drones, but I realized that did not make sense for the world. So, we switched up pronunciations STEAMed Drones.
Start a degree in the School of STEM at American Public University.
As far as my experience with STEAM in general goes, I’ve been in it since middle school, whether I was looking at the weather, whether I was in US First Robotics, whether I was in a joint program or biomedical symposium it’s kind of something that just always followed me. And when I went to college, I studied mathematics and secondary mathematics, and that was just my passion.
As it got into the workforce, I launched a bunch of platforms for STEAM. One of which was for NJ Drone Academy at Jersey City Public Schools. And when I got into the program, it was sort of a separation between middle school and high school teachers or educators. And we were given drone materials to teach students how to actually build 110 millimeter drones and 250s.
When we got into the classroom, we realized a lot of the students did not have motor skills to put the propellers together with the motor while soldering. So, for me, I got to watch all of my peers pretty much fail at executing the drone program and I was able to be successful. So, this program, for me, is sort of not only a love letter to the education system, but a game-based design that requires more so of a facilitator approach, more than an educator approach.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: That’s a good point. I think, especially with hands-on learning, you need to facilitate as well as educate. In terms of drone technology, can you talk about some of the challenges you have incurred when trying to teach youth?
Stevenson Demorcy: The technology is very new, so the number one problem is just being afraid of it, the fear. Just touching the drone, watching it fly. A lot of the students thinking they can’t do it educators as well just thinking, “Hey, this is so technical that I can’t do it.”
And, for me, it’s always taking the word like you can’t, but God will. So, just put your best foot forward and try. So, after just getting through the fear, just learning the platform, learning how to code, learning, how to drive.
Of course, students who play Need for Speed, Halo and video games they perfectly just to line up with this program. But those who have not had a video game background, they tend to stumble a little bit and that’s okay.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah, you’re right. I mean, in some cases you have to learn how to fail in order to succeed. I’m glad you’re allowing people that space and try something new. So, I’m glad that your company is called STEAMed Drones because I am a big proponent of the A in STEAM, which is art. So, how do you communicate the connection between STEAM education and drone technology?
Stevenson Demorcy: As you mentioned the A, as I listened to your podcast, I believe you said that art was what we use to communicate the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. And without it, we’re kind of lost. We’re kind of just a giant vortex, you would say.
So, in STEAMed Drones, what we do is we take a bit of all the aspects of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics and we add all of that into one lesson. So, you kind of think of it as taking an ADHD approach, a healthy ADHD approach, into learning something.
You use art to set up the course, you use art to think about your drone design. You use mathematics to do data collection. You use mathematics to find your slope, and et cetera. You use science to do your research in terms of what is happening in the drone world? What are forces of flight? So we just do a full on incorporation of everything. And clearly you’re using the drone for technology, whether it’s coding, or gyroscope, or manual flying.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah, that’s a good point. That’s STEAMed Drones tries to incorporate everything, or it helps the participants look at things from a different vantage point.
At American Public University, we strive to connect research in the classroom with the reality outside the classroom. So, how do you use some basic academic practices and theories taught in the classroom to teach about drone technology in the real world?
Stevenson Demorcy: And I thank the American Public University for being pioneers in this realm. The real-world connection is sometimes very much so missing from the education system. We, on a secondary level, tend to teach more from an abstract perspective.
And, for me, the number one thing about building this platform, this pipeline was to make sure that everything that happens in the real world is a micro version of what’s happening in this program. So, everything from video recording, that we do a, hey record, a 30-second video using the drone technology. That is something you actually do in real life, you’re getting paid for it in real life.
When we’re doing our research on mathematics, our data collection, that is something you actually do in real life, whether it’s through finance, whether it’s through meteorology, as you know, your background is in. Whatever it is that you’re doing in the real world is what you’re doing in this program. There’s no above and beyond abstract concept that you can’t apply immediately to the field.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Absolutely. That’s a great point. In a perfect world, what training would we need to make the public more aware of the importance of drone technology?
Stevenson Demorcy: So, one of my favorite shows is by Issa Rae and she likes to say, “We got y’all.” So, for me, with STEAMed Drones, we take a, we got y’all approach. So, part 107 certification, clearly at 16 years old, you can get that certification and start working as an official pilot getting official salary. So, that’s part of it. The curriculum to learn for that, you can directly get it from us.
We also teach you about the mechanics behind the drones. So when you’re a hobbyist, you tend to buy a $1500 drone. And your first flight, you might crash it and destroy your lovely, lovely camera. With our program, we sort of take a micro approach to that. We allow you to have room to fail. We allow you the room to grow. We allow you the room to destroy a propeller and we can fix it in a matter of seconds. We allow you the room that you need to make those first technical errors.
We give you a micro universe, in a sense of what can go wrong? What will go wrong? What are your safety and procedures? And how do we avoid making those mistakes outside of the classroom?
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: So, I’m sure you’ve probably heard this question for STEAMed Drones. Does every person possess the skills to create and execute drone technology activities?
Stevenson Demorcy: I will like to say definitely, 100%, without a doubt, without a shadow. Yes, yes, yes, 100%, yes. Personally, I came to America as a secondary English learner, the mathematics or computational mathematics was something I could do. That’s part of our program.
I went into special ed, which has a lot of creative thinking, that is part of our program, especially when you’re doing recon missions throughout our program. I went to advanced placement honors, and that is clearly the advanced research, the science, all of that is incorporated in STEAMed Drones. And my degree is in mathematics and my certification is in teaching. So a lot of what I’ve done is teach. I’ve literally taught every grade from K to 12 so I can, without a doubt, tell you everyone can do this.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Looking forward to the future, how do you ensure that drone technology becomes a long-term way to promote STEAM?
Stevenson Demorcy: I guess the best way I would say is to take a look at the automotive industry, to look at what happened with cars. We see Henry Ford, as a hobbyist, he created pretty much what we all drive today. And you take the car, we look at, “Hey, how do we improve the wheels? How do we improve the motor? How do we improve the engine? What is design like? What’s the difference between a BMW and a Nissan?”
All of those things kind of incorporate every element of STEAM. And so, for me, it is very critical that I bring all those elements and I’m very mindful of how I bring these elements into the classroom to let individuals, whether it’s students, whether it’s educators, whether it’s hobbyists, anyone involved in this program will be able to find their own specific niche. It doesn’t necessarily have to be you go outside and become a drone pilot. You could become a researcher. You could do the art aspect of it. There’s so much room to grow in this field that it’s almost a shame not to be part of it.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Let’s look forward 5, 10, 15 years. What is your personal goal or vision when it comes to the future of drone technology?
Stevenson Demorcy: For me, one of my favorite theorists is Lev Vygotsky. So, he talks to us about how we… I don’t even want to say adolescents. I’m going to say we, as people, we continually develop through constant interaction with more skilled adults or more skilled individuals.
So, for example, you look at the Wright brothers who did not have a formal education, but there were hobbyists. And how they become the hobbyists is through their mother who seriously back in the day was the first female to go to college, got a degree and went out and taught her kids how to reverse engineer, engineer, and et cetera to the point that they were so skilled that they did not need to go to college. They could just take what was given to them from their mother and apply it and continually learn.
So, for me, in 5 to 10 years, what I see is a Mecca in which we don’t disregard the education system, and we don’t separate it from being a hobbyist. For me, it will be an all-encompassing world where we encourage each other, where we all put in some effort and we all create an ecosystem of, “Hey, this is what learning looks like.” We’re not focused on education, but we’re focusing on applying education. So, it would be a full turnaround of the zone proximal development.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah, I agree that that applied aspect in a lot of educational settings is missing. So, I’m glad that your program aims to bring that back in a creative way. What are some resources you recommend to help individuals learn more about drone technology?
Stevenson Demorcy: I would definitely say, please log on to steameddrones.com. You can find a free lesson there that will get you started on learning about the drone program. You can email us about any questions that you have. Say, “Hey, what type of starter drone should I buy?” I will be happy to answer it for you. The team would be happy to answer it for you. So, just log onto our site and we got you covered. We got y’all.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah just like you said with Issa Rae. I think that’s a great way to end it. But let me just ask, is there anything else you’d like to talk to our listeners about STEAM, about drone technology? Any additional ways that you want to just share your expertise and your perspective on this issue?
Stevenson Demorcy: Yes. And I had a very big question for you. So, the definition of drones right now is very loose. The way we, as society, look at drones right now, is not technically how drones are supposed to operate. So, I say that because we, as society, we use manual piloting, we’re still man piloting. So, I just wanted to ask you, particularly with your background in AI, artificial intelligence, how do you see AI improving the drone system, especially in terms of transport?
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: I actually, I think I saw this on your LinkedIn page, so it was showing a mock fire. And it was showing how firefighters could intelligently program a drone with water to literally fly up a few flights of stairs and extinguish a fire in mere minutes. As opposed to the more traditional route of having a fire engine, having a hose, having to either angle that hose from the ground or, in some cases, literally enter the building, risking the lives of those firefighters, both men and women, as they handle the blaze. So, to me, that’s an example of how artificial intelligence can help. It can go places where traditionally men and women cannot.
So, I am a big proponent of artificial intelligence, as you know, I do think the world is endless, or there are no boundaries when it comes to artificial intelligence. And, basically, artificial intelligence is just that, it’s trying to teach a machine how to think like a human. And once you can teach them to think like a human then, hopefully, they will learn to act and react like a human as well.
And so, in this case that I just mentioned what the firefighters, it can show how a machine could take the place of a human. And then, that way the human does not necessarily have to put themselves in harm’s way.
So, I think the drone technology there are so many different ways that it can be used. You mentioned my background is meteorology, just now the past couple of months, I know that there are several weather-related companies that now will literally sell or rent drones.
And so after a disaster, you might have local law enforcement that needs to get to a particular location, but those roads might be blocked because of the weather, or the damages from that weather event. A drone can go where humans cannot.
And it could be life or death in some situations that the drone can have eyes and ears from the sky, or even on the ground. And, in some ways, can even communicate with those individuals who might not be able to in the traditional ways.
Like for example, after a massive tornado outbreak or a hurricane makes landfall, sometimes the traditional ways of communication, such as the internet, or using cell phones are no longer an option. You can have drones that can literally go to locations, and communicate with people, and relay that information back.
To answer your question, I really do think this is an exciting field. I think it is a field that incorporates all aspects of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. And I do feel that artificial intelligence will continue to expand, as well as drone technology as well. So, thank you for turning the tables and asking me a question. I think that was awesome.
Again, thank you for sharing your expertise and your perspective on this issue. And thank, again, for joining me for today’s episode of Exploring STEM.
Stevenson Demorcy: Thank you for having me. I sincerely appreciate it.
Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Well thank you. And we appreciate your time. And thank you for talking to us about this important issue. And thank you to our listeners for joining us. As a reminder, you can learn more about these topics by signing up for American Public University’s bimonthly newsletter. So, until our next podcast be well and be safe.