Jacquene Curlee – affectionately known as “Miss JC” by her students – loves her job. With an enthusiasm and spirit impossible to resist, JC is on a mission to promote her own version of STEAM education: Science, Technology, Engineering, Aviation and Math.
The founder and CEO of Kids Drone Zone has found her calling in the drone field by teaching children from ages 8-18 to build, code, fly, repair, and use drones. Along the way, they learn cooperation, collaboration, scholarship and passion. And all of them love it.
Kids Drone Zone offers camps, classes, public events, internships and scholarships – and the list is always expanding as JC finds new ways to support her students. From a trial run at the Atlanta Maker Faire in 2015 to an organization offering opportunities for young people across the country, the Kids Drone Zone has been on a non-stop growth spurt.
“In 2015, with just a crazy new idea, we went to the Atlanta Maker Faire and set up a Drone Technology Pavilion to see if the community would be accepting of the idea,” says JC. “We did drone safety and education, followed by drone tech and drones for good – and at the end, the kids got to fly.”
“1,076 kids later – my feet hurt so much! – we knew we had a business,” she laughs.
The response to that first outing was so positive that the Drone Tech Pavilion won the blue ribbon at the Maker Faire as the most popular tent. Thousands of kids and many events later, JC and her team are still thrilling their students with their take on drone technology.
A former CPA and fraud investigator from Atlanta, Curlee got interested in drone technology from watching TED talks in her spare time. Fascinated by the new industry, she began taking every drone class she could while still working full-time. Determined to make a career change and follow her passion, she identified youth education as an unserved niche in the industry.
From those first public events, the program has spread like wildfire. Camps, classes, drone fun days, drone olympics, drone squads and drone ambassadors: JC has a seemingly limitless energy for getting kids involved with drone technology. “We shift the programs to focus on what the kids are most interested in,” says JC. “They all love different aspects. ” Invited to participate in the Women in Aviation National Conference at Disney, JC found herself voted as the best part of the conference by the 400 girls in the program. She’s been invited to the presidential inauguration leadership summit and partnered with prestigious drone companies across the country. It seems that the next generation – and their parents – are just as interested in the drone industry as she is.
Kids outside of the Southeast will soon be able to participate too. Kids Drone Zone will be expanding with a “train the trainers” approach to create “Drone Squads,” groups who can follow the KDZ program. Students who have been through the program will be the voices on “how to” videos that will help guide the process; knowledge quizzes will move kids along in the curriculum.
And the next generation of drone technologists may just find their calling. “My whole goal is to give as many kids as I can that exposure and experience, to inspire them to create,” says JC.
For more information on sponsorship and internship opportunities for companies or programs for kids, visit KidsDroneZone.org.