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Tuskegee University students spend summer term enhancing their education at K-State Salina

Friday, Aug. 15, 2014


SALINA — With aerospace engineering degrees already in the works, two students from Tuskegee University in Alabama are heightening their collegiate experience by spending the summer studying unmanned aircraft systems at Kansas State University Salina.

Tuskegee's Sidney Walker, a senior from Augusta, Georgia, andBenjamin Bradley, a senior from Lamar, South Carolina, got the idea to study the emerging field of unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, from one of their professors who also serves as a K-State Salina adjunct professor. K-State Salina was one of two universities in the nation to first offer a bachelor's degree in unmanned aircraft systems, and Tuskegee University, though historically known for its connection to the Tuskegee Airmen, does not currently have any piloting classes, manned or unmanned. Bradley and Walker say they jumped at the chance to broaden their curriculum and add to their resumes.

"I nagged our professor every day about coming to K-State Salina to study," Bradley said. "I knew this was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up."

"Studying unmanned systems will definitely give us an edge in the job market," Walker said. "Our peers in aerospace engineering will most likely not have experience with UAS, so this training will set us apart."

Bradley and Walker arrived on campus Memorial Day weekend and began Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems two days later. Though it may not sound very extensive, Kurt Barnhart, associate dean for research and engagement at K-State Salina and instructor for the class, says the temporary Tuskegee transplants are actually learning at a more advanced level.

"Their classroom instruction is more in-depth, they have extended lab time and they are working on a project that would normally be given to students in their second or third year," Barnhart said. "This opportunity is the definition of a personal learning environment, and Benjamin and Sidney demonstrate every day that this educational partnership has been a success."

A connection between Tuskegee University and Kansas State University actually dates back more than 100 years when then Tuskegee Institute hired John William Brown, the first African-American veterinarian to earn his doctorate degree from Kansas State Agriculture College, now Kansas State University, in 1912. Three K-State College of Veterinary Medicine graduates were recruited as faculty to Tuskegee Institute in 1945. And most recently, K-State Salina forged a partnership with Tuskegee in the early 2000s to cross-train their aviation students as professional pilots. The cross-training is no longer being conducted, but Barnhart is hopeful the experiences of Bradley and Walker this summer will revitalize the two schools' affiliation.

"Building a relationship with other universities has endless benefits, and in academia we're all about collaborating," Barnhart said. "With Tuskegee, I think it's important to keep our strong history alive. In partnerships, new ideas take shape, education is exchanged, research projects can be taken to the next level and lives are enriched."

Both Bradley and Walker were intrigued by aviation at an early age. Bradley grew up near an air force base and would frequently attend air shows with his family, while Walker was interested in general locomotion until he went to an air show with a friend. And though the engineering side of aviation has peaked their curiosity from those first moments, the two say learning about unmanned aircraft systems this summer at K-State Salina has made an impact on their future.

"I'll always like the design and mechanics side of aviation better than operations, but working with unmanned aircraft have inspired me to pursue that field," Bradley said. "I want to take what I've learned from Dr. Barnhart and help problem-solve ways to make it easier to incorporate UAS into the national airspace system."

'This summer has definitely been life-changing for me," Walker said. "It has opened my eyes to a variety of possibilities in aviation that I didn't know were available. I highly encourage any student who's given an opportunity to expand on his or her knowledge to take it."


Kurt Barnhart


Kansas State University Salina

News tip

Salina, Kansas; Tuskegee, Alabama; Augusta, Georgia; and Lamar, South Carolina


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Benjamin Bradley, left, and Sidney Walker, both aerospace engineering students at Tuskegee University, are spending their summer studying unmanned aircraft systems at Kansas State University Salina.

Written by

Julee Cobb

At a glance

Two students from Tuskegee University in Alabama are studying unmanned aircraft systems this summer at Kansas State University Salina.