Volunteering for the Philadelphia OIC Drone Program

Last week I was able to take a day off from work to volunteer anywhere of my choosing, so I gave a talk to students of the Philadelphia OIC Drone Program.

Last week I was able to take a day off from work to volunteer anywhere of my choosing: a perk of my company's Employee Engagement and Volunteering policy. I spent my day preparing for and delivering a talk about my professional drone experience to the Philadelphia OIC Drone Program, a tuition-free program which helps students pass the Federal Aviation Administration's Part 107 commercial drone pilot exam.

I wanted to write a note about this experience because it made me very happy to be able to engage with such a cool initiative. In November last year when I visited my alma mater for Homecoming, I caught up over happy hour with Harvey Floyd II, an Executive Education lecturer and Senior Executive Coach at the Wharton School, whom I had gotten to know well during my years at Penn. After talking about drones, Lumos helmets, and his exciting projects, Harvey told me about Philadelphia OIC's new Drone Program which he knew the Vice President for, and asked me if I would be interested in learning more. I immediately agreed and the next morning I met with Harvey and the Vice President for brunch at the Fitler Club across the Schuylkill River and brainstormed ways of advancing this new drone course which would kickstart a couple months later.

I learned at the brunch meeting that the plan was to hold multiple Drone Program classes in 6-week, 10-20 student sessions. The classes are held at night to accommodate the working students' schedules, made free for all students, and funded by grants to Philadelphia OIC from the government, companies, and other donors. Students are provided with a DJI Tello (a $100 miniature drone), course instructions, and the funding to take their $125 Part 107 exam. The primary goal of the course is to help students get Part 107 certified, while at the same time teaching Life Skills. One way to make the Life Skills component more interactive was to have guest speakers talk to the students about their day-to-day experience with drones. I told the Vice President that I would love to do it: up to that point I had given a TEDxPenn talk, 2 public drone flight demos, 3 student club talks, and dozens of business presentations on my experience flying drones professionally.

The class was structured as a Zoom call with around 20 faces, and I shared my screen so the students could see my Google Sheets presentation. Most students in the class were of color, in their 40s to 50s, and in the Drone Program for an opportunity to move up to a higher-paying career flying drones. I met with the program director a couple of times in the weeks before my talk in order to gauge what she thought the students would be most interested in, and decided on these 3 main topics:

  1. Showing different types of drones (pictures and in-person)
  2. How I started my drone photography company
  3. Story of almost getting arrested for flying a drone

I was very impressed with how engaged the students were: during the hour I was asked over 30 questions such as:

  1. How can I attend a drone conference?
  2. Could a drone be flown over 400 feet?
  3. Should I invest time in a photography class to get into the real estate drone photography business?

I think the students were most interested in how to start a drone-related business. Money concerns were at top of mind, which makes sense because I think their main incentives for taking this night class is to make more money. If I were to deliver a follow-on presentation, I would walk through actual numbers with the students, such as the project fees, costs of transportation, costs of equipment, costs of drone liability insurance, additional revenue sources from licensing footage, additional revenue from referring out business, and much more. These are the types of topics that drone professionals do not like to share because they are afraid that it may create more competition which would negatively impact their bottom line. Since I am no longer active in the drone business, I would be comfortable with sharing these types of data with students as a "real world" business exercise.

Overall, I loved this opportunity to share my unique experiences with students, and hope that I've shown the students that getting the drone license and continuously self-improving will pay dividends. I was also very happy about the students' engagement. I look forward to continuing to work with Philadelphia OIC as a Guest Lecturer, and also appreciate WePay for letting me take a day off to engage with my community.

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