Reaching New Heights

Lance Pauker
October 2, 2023
Drone shot of oyster beds in Cape Cod

“Any college can teach you how to use a camera and edit. But when I was choosing a college, I wanted something more. I didn’t know anything about drones until I took a tour at Pace, and I thought that was something new and innovative that I hadn’t seen.”

These are the words of Adam Ng ’23, ‘24. Having recently earned a Bachelor of Science in Digital Cinema and Filmmaking, Adam is currently completing a master’s in communication and digital media; all while working as a post-production assistant at The View. His busy schedule–typical of an ambitious Pace student–is a product of his curiosity, drive, and the fact that while at Pace, he took advantage of unique opportunities Dyson’s department of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts had to offer.

Looking to expand his horizons and skill-set as an undergraduate, Adam enrolled in MCA 350: Making Media with Drones during the spring of his sophomore year. The class, which was launched in 2017 by Dyson Associate Professor of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts Kate Fink, PhD, explores drone usage, regulations, and prepares students for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Commercial Drone Pilot License exam.

Drone shot of a road and farms in France
A drone shot taken by Adam in France during the filming of For the Love of Food.

Fink, who first became interested in the uses of drones in journalism and storytelling about a decade ago, created the class to help anyone at Pace interested in drone usage to obtain their pilot’s license, understand drone usage in a larger context, and apply this ever-evolving technology to a wide variety of fields.

“There are so many applications of drones–not only in cinematography and film, but in a growing number of other industries–agriculture, construction, real estate,” says Fink. “We learn about the different ways drones are used, and the legal and ethical issues–issues related to privacy, trespass, conflict between national and local regulations. It gets really complex and interesting to look at the legal and ethical challenges that come up due to drones.”

After taking the class–which he describes as one of his favorites at Pace–Adam took the FAA exam and obtained his pilot’s license. Immediately, he put his newly official skill to use, serving as the drone pilot for the last two student-produced documentaries for Pace’s Producing the Documentary course. In addition to getting the opportunity to fly drones in Cape Cod for From Tide to Table, he took his talents internationally with For the Love of Food, which filmed in France to examine the slow-food movement.

“It was amazing to go to a different country and fly a drone,” said Adam. “Before coming to college, I did not think I’d ever be doing that.”

Success stories like Adam’s will now be increasingly possible, thanks in part due to a recent recognition–Pace was recently accepted into the FAA’s UAS Collegiate Training Initiative, and is the first four-year institution in New York State to join. This designation, given to colleges and universities that are preparing students for careers in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones), also strengthens Pace's relationship with the FAA, which is important as regulations and industry demands change.

Fink hopes to build on the recent designation to expand drone offerings at Pace to remain on the forefront of drone technology, and provide students an entry-way into this ever-growing field.

Overhead drone shot of Pace Pleasantville campus
A drone shot taken by Adam of Pace's Pleasantville Campus

“I’m working with faculty at other departments at Pace to expand this into a certificate program; including the current course, but also other courses that let us offer a more interdisciplinary approach to drones so that students can not only get more experience with drones, but see how drones are being applied and get experience in other fields using drones,” says Fink.

Among the fields Fink hopes to expand the program into include computer science and environmental sciences and management, where drones are currently on the forefront of environmental monitoring and issues pertaining to climate change.

“There’s exciting things happening with drones used in environmental monitoring and management as well as issues related to climate change. It’s been really cool to work on that and learn more about these issues; and the amazing potential that drones have to make advancement in those areas,” added Fink.

As the usage of drones continues to evolve, Pace is committed to remaining on the cutting-edge of the industry; and in the process, elevating the potential and career aspirations of our students to bold new heights.

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