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Students, educators hear about drone industry opportunities as annual UAS summit kicks off

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College students looking for a piece of the unmanned aircraft system industry’s future gathered Monday in Grand Forks to help launch their career plans.

More than 100 students and educators from the University of North Dakota, Northland Community and Technical College and other schools gathered for a day of their own as part of the UAS Summit and Expo at the Alerus Center. The summit brings together hundreds of industry experts to Grand Forks to showcase the technology’s latest developments.

The summit’s Student Access Day brought students face to face with potential employers, provided updates on industry growth and gave participants a chance to ask questions of business leaders.

UND seniors Tanner Hoover, Josh Joy and Michael Pierce were among the attendees looking to meet with staff from major manufacturers such as Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Atomics.

“I feel like it is a somewhat closed-off community, but summits like these are why you go and come here to network,” Pierce said.

The future looks bright for graduates seeking UAS-related positions, with economic reports predicting thousands of such jobs popping up around the country -- something students hope proves true as graduation draws near.

When it came to deciding on a major, the explosion of industry growth locally and across the United States caught the attention of Joy, who said he is a lifelong aviation enthusiast.

“UAS cropped up and the opportunities seemed good,” he said.

The going hasn’t always been easy, as the crowd learned from a panel of CEOs who graduated from UND and now head drone businesses. David Dvorak, CEO of Field of View, started his company before the Federal Aviation Administration let companies fly drones for business purposes with special permissions.

“We’ve had to do some acrobatics in order to figure out how to run a profitable company in the unmanned aircraft market when you can’t fly commercially,” he said.

Things will be easier for future drone entrepreneurs as rules regulating the industry are set to become active next week.

With that advantage, the timing is great for young innovators, the panelists said. Matt Dunlevy of SkySkopes encouraged students follow their interest in UAS even if their background isn’t in aviation. Dunlevy told the crowd that his education is in history but his passion for aviation led to the founding of his company.

When it comes to finding jobs, starting a company or pursuing opportunities in the industry, Christian Smith of Interactive Aerial advised students to keep searching for knowledge.

“Just ask questions, you guys,” Smith said. “I was in your shoes last year as a student and now I’m out in the big world running a business, and whatever knowledge we’ve gathered we’re happy to share with you.”

Though opportunities for jobs and internships are spread across the country, state leaders hope to see students start careers in North Dakota. Brian Opp, aerospace development manager for the state Department of Commerce, said people believe the industry will be huge, with billions of dollars in development expected over the next decade.

Part of that expansion is taking place in North Dakota. Grand Sky, an aviation business park under construction on Grand Forks Air Force Base, is expected to bring about 3,000 jobs once completed.

The jobs would be a mix of on-site positions and positions within surrounding communities. Other jobs are taking shape across the state as businesses are founded and existing companies adopt unmanned technology.

“When I look around and see this group of students and similar people, you have the opportunity right here in North Dakota to identify really thrilling careers, really exciting paths forward for yourselves in really any direction you choose,” Opp said.

Story written by Brandi Jewet and published by Forum News Service

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