HUNTINGTON - Drone usage for business and entertainment purposes is a new and rapidly evolving career field with unlimited opportunities, according to Megan Click, assistant professor of Geospatial Science and Technology and the Drone Technology programs at Mountwest Community and Technical College.

The Geospatial Science and Technology (GST) program at Mountwest hosted its second annual Drone Expo on campus Saturday to spotlight the growing drone industry in the Mountain State.

"The Drone Expo gives the public the opportunity to experience drone technology firsthand," Click said.

A dozen professionals from a variety of industries gave talks and demonstrations on the ways they utilize drone technology.

Bennet Siffrin, a promotions producer and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified drone pilot for WCHS-TV, says the station has been flying its Sky Team drone for about a year and a half.

"This event gives us the opportunity to do some community outreach while demonstrating the many opportunities for people seeking careers using drones," he said. "We are here to show folks how we use drones in the news industry."

A representative from the FAA was there to discuss drone rules and regulations, while other local professionals were on hand to discuss the use of drones for journalism, aerospace, engineering projects, public safety, the insurance industry, drone racing competitions and other commercial uses.

Click says with the FAA's regulation in August 2016, it became possible for individuals to seek careers as certified operators of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). She said a new associate degree concentration in drone technology will be offered for the first time this fall at Mountwest, and it has been approved as part of the WV Invests free college initiative.

"We are currently enrolling students for this program," she said.

Mountwest gained approval from the West Virginia Community and Technical College System last year for three years of funding for a technical program development grant to start the drone technology program.

"We're going to prepare students to take their FAA Part 107 test to become certified drone pilots," Click said.

Click says the two-year program also provides students the chance to learn more than just how to fly drones.

"One of the main focuses of the program is to integrate the drone technology remote sensing with the geospatial science mapping," Click explained. "Drones are an extension of the geospatial science because they are used for remote sensing. Before, we had to use airplanes or satellites to get the aerial imagery, but now you can fly drones to acquire the data and put it in the map-making software and you can do any kind of number of 3D models or surface models to actually make decisions or studies with the data collected."

On Friday, the college hosted more than 100 middle and high school students from area schools who are interested in learning about drone technology, Click added.

For more information about the program, email her at clickm@mctc.edu. For more information about Mountwest, visit www.mctc.edu.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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