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Meet the Two Winners of Our 2020 Drone Technology College Scholarship

BY Zacc Dukowitz
17 June 2020

We are pleased to announce the two winners of our third annual Drone Technology College Scholarship, a scholarship we launched in 2018 to provide financial support to college students who demonstrate an interest in pushing the drone industry forward.

Each scholarship winner will receive $1,000 to support their college studies. Scroll down to meet the winners and read their award-winning essays.

Want to learn more about the scholarship? Check out this page on the Drone Pilot Ground School website.

[Did you know? We also offer scholarships for high school students, which provide free access to Drone Pilot Ground School to help students prepare for the Part 107 test and cover the $150 cost of taking the Part 107 test.]


Our 2020 Drone Technology College Scholarship Winners

Scholarship winners are selected based primarily on the quality of their essays.

Here are the three essay topics applicants had to choose from this year:

  • How Drones Can Be Used to Do Good
  • How Drones Will Change Our World Over the Next Ten Years
  • How Drones Can Be Used for STEM Education

Now let’s get to the winners!

Gabriella Cooper


I was born and raised in Southern California and I am first generation in my family to (almost) receive a bachelor’s degree.

I am currently enrolled in the California State Polytechnic University Pomona part of the Landscape Architecture program at the College of Environmental Design. Fall 2020 will commence my final year in the program and graduation is set to be in May 2021. I plan on applying for internships to gain experience in the field and continue my photography career on the side.

My interest in drones began this previous semester when I joined a Film class that created a Full Feature Documentary on the Los Angeles River and Kat Superfisky. I was lent a DJI Mavic Pro by my professor Michael Todoran. I captured some great shots and the interest in mixing film with Landscape Architecture began. After a semester of exploring with the drone, my curiosity grew larger to see how I can have drones/videography bring light to the important work Landscape Architects do for the community.

Gabriella’s Winning Essay

Essay Topic: How Drones Will Change Our World Over the Next Ten Years

How drones will change our world, well let us just say we are already using drones to change the world. Beginning in a globally recognized place like Los Angeles, the movements we make in this city can be used as a precedent project in the future. I want to predict what drones will do for the future of Landscape Architecture. The move is bold, and we are already in motion.

How are we already in motion? Spring semester of 2020 at Cal Poly Pomona, a handful of students embarked on a new entanglement with the help of instructor Michael Todoran to create a full-feature documentary. This documentary focused on Los Angeles’s first Urban Ecologist, Kat Superfisky, and the Los Angeles River. Drones played a large part in acquiring adequate videography and photography for the film. Using the drones to fly through the river, we were able to get site inventory that helped show the context of the river.

The videos captured with the drones show the viewers the 51 miles of this concrete living ecosystem nestled in their city, and we want to show the importance of it. Flying through the center of the river as a class we were able to study the watershed patterns and see the flow of the river water. Having the ease of controlling a powerful camera we were able to interact very closely with the flora and fauna that flourishes in the ecosystem the river has created, all while not unsettling the ecosystem. Using the drone as the main source of research we were able to compile a substantial amount of video to present on an academic level and entertainment level. Not only will the videography be used to entertain the viewers, but we are teaching them why we stand for environmental urban ecology. The usage of drones in this film is giving exposure to the possibilities of Landscape Architects showing and teaching others what we stand for and where we are going with preserving and sustaining the ecosystems. We can set the pace for future Landscape films bringing our community of designers into the minds of many.

In the field of Landscape Architecture, the design process begins with seeing the raw form of the site to be designed. This is step one on any project, gathering context of the site and feeling what the space is and how it could be. Drones being implemented during this stage of design help sway design charrettes in the workspace to help better develop the master plan. An example of this would be the study of shade patterns during key times of the day. Shade from adjacent infrastructure and the softscape play a large role in the development of a design. Objects that cannot be removed from the site cast shadows and could influence the layout of the paths, planting, and hardscape. The study of shade is important, especially in Southern California, because we need to know where people will gravitate during the different seasons and times of day.

One real example I experienced, was being part of a Design Build studio that redesigned the plaza outside of our College of Environmental Design. When the staking of the design was taking place we flew the drone up to see how it would look in real time, it gave us the opportunity to see the flow of the design and how people will walk through the heavily pedestrian location. It gave us the advantage to adjust the master plan before construction began, so that we had a better flow of foot traffic.

The construction process of a design could also benefit from the usage of drones. Using a drone during the beginning stages of construction will give the designers and contractors access to clear images of the standing conditions and see the progress over time. Using map overlays of the master plan, this will give assurance of the design being laid out correctly. These few examples of drones helping the design process are only the beginning of what we can use these machines for. With technological advances over time, we can one day somehow get data that shows topological changes on a site, we could find hydrological patterns on a site, everything we need to do correct site surveys will all be done by one powerful machine. Drones can impact the way we go about the initial design process and ultimately create more jobs within our field.

The ease of remote accessibility with these small machines makes the study of the environment easier. Places that are not accessible by pedestrian or vehicular, can be reached with the help of drones. An example of this would the study of wetlands/marshlands and dense forests are not accessible but flying a small aircraft we can get close enough to conduct research on the area. Not only is it safer for the researchers, we do not pose a threat to the flora and fauna flourishing in the area. The use of drones in remote places help conduct research faster as well, the drone is able to cover more square footage than a person walking through. The limit of the drones is down the software and as time will go by, it will improve to help better research the landscape.

To conclude, the next ten years in the field of Landscape Architecture could be promising with the use of drones. The advocacy of what we do for the environment could create a better environment for everyone, the design process could improve substantially, and the research of remote territory can improve. Everything is achievable if we keep in motion.

Image source

John Davis


My name is John MacGregor Davis and I am from New Albany, Mississippi.

I have recently completed my high school career where I was very active in our journalism and technology classes. I will be pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Mississippi State University this Fall, and expect to graduate in 2024q. Mississippi State University has been selected as the Center of Excellence in the field of Unmanned Aircraft Systems by the Federal Aviation Administration, and for good reason. Mississippi State’s engineering, security, and agriculture departments have been leaders in research and development in the drone industry.

I am looking forward to participating in and contributing to the work done there. I plan to use my experience in college to find a job on the front lines of drone technology. While those plans are far down the road, I have been working toward them for years. My experience with drones started when I realized drones could marry my love of technology and my passion for photography. I researched and saved for my first drone, a Phantom 3 Advanced. I now own my Limited Liability Company in which I am hired for freelance aerial photography and videography. Most of my clientele consists of real estate agents and municipal tourism agencies, but I am looking to expand into construction and agriculture in the coming years. During the summer of 2018, I observed drone innovation business strategy through an internship at Hyperion Technology Group. Through my responsibilities there, I was able to learn and contribute to the development of mounting gunshot detection systems on an aerial platform.

John’s Winning Essay

Essay Topic: How Drones Will Change Our World Over the Next Ten Years

At the current rate of advancement in unmanned aerial systems, it is hard to fathom what the drone industry will look like in ten years. It was not long ago when drone technology was limited to the battlefield. The computer and radio technology at that time was too expensive and complex to be miniaturized. Now engineers have developed nano drones that can fit in the palm of a person’s hand. Revolutionary developments in technology such as this have led to a forty-three billion dollar commercial drone industry, and this number is growing rapidly.

Each year unmanned aerial systems become smaller, smarter, and safer as more money is poured into the drone market. Though as advanced as the technology has become, there is still a great deal of progress to be made. I believe the potential of the drone industry is dependent upon three factors: governmental regulation, artificial intelligence, and limitless human creativity.

Drone producers can only go as far as their government allows them. As of right now, the majority of unmanned aerial systems in the United States are required to be piloted or observed by a pilot in command. Only a small percentage of drones are considered fully autonomous. This of course is not to simply restrict application but is in recognition of the technological weaknesses in current drones. However, the concept of widespread autonomous drones is not a foreign idea and is one that is being explored daily. Many large companies have been working towards this future and have had great success in creating it. As more breakthroughs are made and the technologies evolve, laws will need to be rewritten to accept new inventions. Increased battery and aerodynamic efficiency will result in longer flight times. This advancement will allow larger areas of operation. So regulations will need to be changed to be more welcoming to beyond visual line of sight missions. Regulatory adjustments will domino into unprecedented expansions in the drone industry. Drones delivering groceries, transporting emergency equipment, and even moving commuters across town will be daily events. If lawmakers drag their feet on drone regulation, the result will prohibit this thrilling vision from ever coming to fruition. Companies will have to work in partnership with governments to achieve a drone casual future.

While companies are already rapidly improving, there is one factor that will likely increase their current advancement exponentially. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have already proven their power to reshape the drone industry. They have already given unmanned aerial systems the ability to orient themselves as well as navigate their surroundings without any human intervention. These flying computers are here. GPS guidance and onboard obstacle avoidance software have already been tested and implemented into current drones. Continuing to teach drones to solve new problems independent from exterior interaction will undoubtedly change the world as we know it. Artificial intelligence will not only apply to the software makeup of drones but the development of platforms themselves. Computers are now and will continue to be better than humans in creating designs for new aircraft. This will be done by computers crunching intensive math and running complex simulations. The results will be aerodynamic and functionally efficient unmanned aerial systems.

However, people cannot depend on computers to do all the work. Current computers can only run the commands that people create. As a species, our greatest natural strength is our ability to create tools. Engineers have been extremely creative in applying aerial platforms to almost every industry. Over the next ten years, designers will have to approach difficult problems and be open-minded to how drones could solve them. It is likely that some of the greatest functions for drones have yet to be conceived. In contrast to recent improvements, many people remain skeptical of the technology, and claim an unnecessary safety risk. For people to depend on drones to complete tasks, the success rate will have to be 100%. When something is ordered online, there is a very small chance that it will be lost in transit. For drones to be prevalent in industries such as delivery, there must be little to no chance that the drone could harm a person or the package that it is carrying.

I believe that over the next ten years seeing a drone in the sky will be just as common as spotting a plane. Fully autonomous drones will be a cheap way to deliver packages, food, and people. People will continue to recognize the unlimited applications of a drone, and the current skepticism of this technology will be overcome by its success. Drones have become a necessity and one day people will look back and wonder how tasks could even be done without drone technology. Unmanned aerial systems have filled a niche that is ever changing but is now a constant presence in the modern world.

Learn more about our Drone Technology College Scholarship.

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