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NOAA Support of Florida A&M University (FAMU) Outreach Events

Article and Figures Provided By ORTA/UxSRTO Team

Figure 1. NOAA, FAMU, and R/V Hogarth Crew group prior to departure to experience at-sea operations during FAMU’s outreach event on March 10, 2023.  ORTA staff present were Dr. Fiona Horsfall, ORTA Director, and ORTA/UxSRTO’s Kenneth Vierra (Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Vierra).

NOAA’s José E. Serrano Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) is a Federal STEM education and NOAA mission future workforce program.  A component of the program is the NOAA Cooperative Science Centers (CSCs) based at Minority Serving Institutions, which focus on advancing education and collaborative research and supporting students from underrepresented minority communities in fields integral to NOAA’s science mission.  

The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research’s (OAR) Office of Research, Transition, and Application (ORTA) and ORTA’s Uncrewed Systems Research Transition Office (UxSRTO) has been engaging with one of the CSCs, the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems-II (CCME-II) at Florida A&M University (FAMU), through ongoing outreach activities to broaden diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of Uncrewed Systems (UxS).  This includes bringing awareness of UxS and the data collected from them for use in research, both at the institution and specifically in student projects.  

There have recently been two outreach events in which ORTA and UxSRTO have participated.  For both events, ORTA invited NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Uncrewed Aircraft Division and external partners in the field of UxS to join in sharing NOAA’s work with UxS and for hands-on activities with these systems.  The external partners were the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUSVI), which sent their Trusted Operator Program Manager, and representatives from the HSU Foundation, which has developed a robotic security dog named GUS. 

The first event was in Carrabelle, Florida on March 10, 2023.  For this event, CCME-II partnered with Florida Institute of Oceanography to provide graduate students with first hand experience on an ocean-going research vessel.  In addition to engaging students dockside, where the Carrabelle Mayor Brenda La Paz was also in attendance, ORTA secured space at the local Carrabelle Airport for one-on-one student engagement.  ORTA partnered with the local chairman of the Aviation Board, who also invited the onsite Carrabelle Flying Club to put one of their planes on display for the students and to discuss opportunities for obtaining pilots’ licenses.  AUVSI’s Trusted Operator Program Manager provided demonstrations of UxS, and representatives from the HSU Foundation displayed GUS’s capabilities and shared opportunities at the Foundation.

Figure 2. Drone video of departure and pictures dockside at Moorings of Carrabelle boat docks (Courtesy of Vernon Shurtz, AUVSI Trusted Operator Program.)

The second event was a STEM Day hosted by Florida A&M University (FAMU) on April 1, 2023.  FAMU’s STEM Day is an annual outreach activity designed to increase students’ interest in pursuing careers in STEM, as well as to highlight the various STEM activities taking place on FAMU’s campus. This was a free event for all participants, and over 1000 students pre-registered from across Florida and surrounding areas. 

Figure 3. Pictures from Carrabelle Airport event: Carrabelle Flying Club (Top Left); OMAO’s Tina Füss (Top Right); Vernon Shurtz, AUVSI Trusted Operator Program (Bottom Left); HSU Foundation Robotic Dog (Bottom Right). (Photos Courtesy of Kenneth Vierra).
Figure 4. NOAA staff, FAMU students, HSU Foundation representatives, and AUVSI Trusted Operator Program Manager at Carrabelle Airport (Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Vierra).

Dr. Larry Robinson, President of FAMU, provided remarks, and Dr. Gregory Washington, President of George Mason University, provided the keynote address.  Middle and high school students then had the opportunity to engage in several experiments and demonstrations to gain exposure to various STEM disciplines and interact one-on-one with the participating organizations and groups.  ORTA was represented by UxSRTO, OMAO by their UAS Project Coordinator from the Uncrewed Aircraft Division, and leadership from the CCME-II was also in attendance.  UxSRTO led activities that highlighted the use of UxS in better understanding of our climate and oceans and conducted demonstrations of NOAA’s Science on a Sphere (SOS) Program.  The team again partnered with AUSVI’s Trusted Operator Program Manager, who did demonstrations of their uncrewed aerial system (UAS), which included allowing a few students to pilot the UAS.  Additionally, the National Weather Service Tallahassee Weather Forecast Office (WFO) was in attendance and provided weather-focused demonstrations and discussed career paths and opportunities.

Throughout the two events sponsored by FAMU, NOAA and partners were able to increase awareness about UxS and NOAA’s innovative technologies among middle school, high school, and college students from across the State of Florida. Such outreach events provide invaluable opportunities to spread NOAA’s mission and are an integral component of our continued effort to increase diversity in STEM fields within NOAA and beyond.

Figure 5. (Left) Dr. Bryan Cole, UxSRTO Director, and CCME-II Graduate Scholar Ashley Lacey discuss NOAA opportunities with students while OMAO’s Tina Füss engages another group of students with a UxS presentation. (Right) Dr. Bryan Cole demonstrates NOAA’s Science on a Sphere Program with a student and parent (Photos Courtesy of Mary Solokas, UxSRTO Knauss Fellow).

Figure 6. Vernon Shurtz, AUVSI’s Trusted Operator Program Manager, demonstrates UAS flight for a group of students and shows the control panel and real-time camera as he maneuvers the UAS (Photo Courtesy of Mary Solokas).