College students to check piloting expertise, creativity in upcoming drone competitors in Pittsburg – Joplin Globe


PITTSBURG, Kan. — A flying, remote-controlled robot with a camera may sound high-tech, but that technology can easily be accessed at the Pitsco Idea Shop in downtown Pittsburg, which has announced a competition for area schools.

The Pitsco Idea Shop was formed by a joint partnership between Pittsburg State University and Pitsco Education, which annually serves more than 3 million students in more than 60 countries with its products and curricula in science, technology, engineering and math.

The shop features technology and equipment such as 3D printers, laser engravers and drones.

Matt Frankenbery, vice president of education at Pitsco, said it was initially meant to work like a gym membership where there’s a monthly fee to use equipment.

But the pandemic happened during its opening year, so the shop had to switch gears.

“We really did this because of the students in the community, and what we said was, let’s create a couple of student events during this COVID time to where they can sign up on their interest. We can then monitor their access into the facility and make sure it’s a safe but still collaborative and innovative opportunity,” Frankenbery said.

The Pitsco Idea Shop has now teamed up with the university to offer its first drone competition.

Registration is now open to more than 20 teams of middle, high school and college students from across the area. The deadline to register is March 17. The number of teams will be capped due to COVID-19 and social distancing.

A key element for participants will be effective collaboration when problem-solving as a team, Frankenbery said.

“When students graduate and go into the job force, we can’t expect them to just magically know how to work well with others,” he added. “They have to have that experience in the classroom. They have to practice being faced with a challenge and a group dynamic of individuals they don’t see eye-to-eye with. They need to understand how do I resolve conflict, how do I solve a challenge and ultimately we all win in the end. This drone challenge is a perfect example of that.”

After signing up, teams of two to three students will receive a drone on loan from Pitsco as well as $200 in complimentary supplies such as PVC pipe, wooden boards and binder clips to build an obstacle course. Each team must create a drone mission and tell a story using their field elements inside of a 10-foot-by-20-foot netted drone area.

“This is equal parts drone piloting and creativity,” Frankenbery said. “The creativity portion is they’re given a full package of materials to build an obstacle course inside the drone arena. … Then they’ll learn how to fly the drone by piloting through the other teams’ obstacles that have been built.”

The first rounds of the competition will begin in April. Several schools have already signed up, including St. Mary’s Colgan Catholic Schools in Pittsburg. Dennis Burke, president of schools, said officials are looking forward to their students having learning opportunities.

“Not only is this state-of-the-art technology, but it gives them an environment that we just don’t have the capability of providing,” he said. “As proud as we are of the school curriculum, this is the first at St. Mary’s between what kids like to do and a branch of the sciences. Now, they finally get to do something real hands-on and fun. If you can teach them things and they don’t know it, that’s even better.”


The Pitsco Idea Shop, which was the final piece of Block22, officially opened its doors in November.

Block22 is a collaborative project among PSU, the city of Pittsburg and the Vecino Group, a Springfield, Missouri-based real estate developer. The group has invested approximately $18 million to restore and renovate four historic downtown buildings — Commerce, Baxter, National Bank and Opera House Hotel.

“Pitsco Education was an easy collaborator and partner for us to approach when we were looking at, about four years ago, the notion of putting in a makerspace into this 18,000 square feet we call The Foundry,” said Shawn Naccarato, chief strategy officer at PSU.

Although Pitsco’s physical location was new to Pittsburg, it celebrated its 50-year anniversary of being founded by Harvey Dean on Saturday.

Nacarrato said they’re envisioning other partnerships with schools and STEM education for field trips, training and more.

“The sky is the limit,” he said. “The space has doubled since we started planning. We’re excited we’re able to do something this semester.”



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