ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. – At the Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) Drone Expo, Joann Blumenfeld asked Aviation and Emergency Management chairperson Kevin Kupietz a pointed question in front of her students from Catalyst, a program for pupils interested in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM).

“Why should (students) want to come to ECSU,” she said.

“Here, we know who you are and what you want to do,” Kupietz said.

Blumenfeld’s students were part of a myriad of high school students from around the state, who are interested in STEM and Aviation fields and attended ECSU’s first Drone Expo. The event included live drone demonstrations, static displays and information about the university’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)program. A major goal of the event was to spark and cultivate interest in students, like those with Blumenfeld, and introduce them to career options in the field. Additionally, increasing awareness of the technologies and applications of a UAS for small businesses, law enforcement agencies, local and state government officials, community colleges, schools, and the public was also paramount for event organizers.

Aaron Ridenour, 15, attended the event with four of his classmates and his teacher from Bear Grass Charter School in Williamston. He aspires to be a drone pilot and was glad to get information about drones and how far than can fly and drift into air spaces.

“I’m glad to increase my knowledge about (drones),” he said, adding that he didn’t know about ECSU’s program before attending the expo.

That’s part of the reason events like this are important, ECSU organizers said.

“The crowd shows us this was the right thing to do,” said ECSU Chancellor Karrie Dixon who attended the event and mentioned Lenior Community College and Wake Tech Community College as partners in the field of aviation. “We are grateful for everyone’s support and attendance today. These are strategic and intentional partnerships.”

The university’s state-of-the-art UAS pavilion is the only one if its kind in the state. On site, students were able to fly drones and tour the Department of Aviation and Emergency Management STEM trailer.

Organizers are hopeful the event will become an annual one and will prompt students to think broadly about the field.

“We’re going to come up with other challenging events,” said Elton Stone, a professor of aviation and UAS at ESCU. “We want to offer innovative courses that will allow them to have critical thinking skills in maneuvering small unmanned systems.”