For Immediate Release:
March 17, 2022
Primary Media Contact:
Public Relations Specialist
The use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), better known as drones, is taking off across numerous industries, and Laurel Ridge Computer Science Professor Melissa Stange is leading the effort to train those who can pilot them. Lillian Todd was the first woman in the world to design airplanes back in 1906. Helen Richey, in 1934, was the first woman to be hired by a commercial airline in the United States. Despite these pioneering female aviators, data shows that females remain underrepresented in the world of aviation. According to the FFA 2021 Women Remote Pilots By State, there are only 623 female drone pilots in Virginia and 75 in West Virginia.
Today, about 7 percent of certified remote pilots are female, with the highest proportion being women ages 25-34. Professor Stange was recently awarded a Virginia Space Grant Consortium Innovative Project grant to attract more women to become drone pilots.
Thanks to the Innovative Project grant, Laurel Ridge will have a variety of opportunities to get more young women interested in becoming drone pilots. These include:
• Webinars on Zoom March 21, March 30, April 4 and April 15, all 6-7 p.m., open to all ages
• Summer camps: June Explorers for girls ages 13-15, and July Flyers for girls ages 16-18
• Drone Community Day in August
• 10 scholarships for women to enroll in a drone course at the college this fall
Dr. Stange began participating in the Improving Pathways into the Geospatial and Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technician Workforce (GeoTed-UAS) project earlier this winter and will attend a summer faculty institute at Virginia Tech in May.
The project, which is supported by a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant and administered by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, is intended to increase community colleges’ ability to train drone operators. It does this through curriculum alignment, faculty professional development, student service-learning projects and internships.
Dr. Stange and other faculty members attending the institute are expected to serve as trained UAS operations technicians at their respective community colleges.
Starting this fall, Laurel Ridge will be offering drones courses. Initial coursework will train students for FAA-approved commercial operations as remote pilots and prepare them for the relevant FAA exam. Additional courses will cover maintenance, mission planning, flight data management, geospatial technology and more. Learn more about the drones courses at https://laurelridge.edu/drones.
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) has recently approved a high school UAS course, and Dr. Stange hopes to work with local high schools to provide dual-enrollment opportunities.
“The world of drones might still feel futuristic to many, but technology is developing rapidly,” Dr. Stange notes. “It won’t be long until applications of drones are found in many aspects of our lives, and we need to ensure that women are part of this movement.”
Founded in 1970, Laurel Ridge Community College is a multi-campus public institution of higher education. With three locations — Middletown, Warrenton, and Luray-Page County — the College serves eight localities in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Piedmont regions. The localities are the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren and the city of Winchester. Laurel Ridge offers more than 75 associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of disciplines, in addition to providing access to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs offered on site by a four-year institution. Laurel Ridge also serves the business community by offering workforce preparation programs for employees and employers. Laurel Ridge serves more than 9,000 unduplicated credit students and more than 11,000 individuals in professional development and business and industry courses annually.
Laurel Ridge Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate degrees. Laurel Ridge Community College also may offer credentials such as certificates and diplomas at approved degree levels. Questions about the accreditation of Laurel Ridge Community College may be directed in writing to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097, by calling (404) 679-4500, or by using information available on SACSCOC’s website (www.sacscoc.org).
Laurel Ridge Community College is an equal opportunity institution providing educational and employment opportunities, programs, services, and activities. Laurel Ridge shall promote and maintain equal employment and educational opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, age (except when age is a bona fide occupational qualification), status as a veteran, national origin, or other non-merit factors. Laurel Ridge also prohibits sexual misconduct including sexual violence or harassment. Inquiries may be directed to the Associate Vice President, Human Resources, [email protected], 173 Skirmisher Lane, Middletown, VA 22645, 540-868-7226.
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.