M-W alumnus brings drone curriculum to MS

on November 30, 2018

2010 Monroe-Woodbury graduate Michael Vespa has traveled the world. He has recently returned to the area to found STEM North America, a company designed to help support educators and students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Mr. Vespa has been working with Bhargav Vyas, Assistant Superintendent for Compliance and Information Systems, to bring this newly-developed drone curriculum to Monroe-Woodbury schools.

Mr. Vyas and Mr. Vespa visited some middle school technology classes where they shared information related to drone technology with students and demonstrated how drones fly. Some lucky students even had the opportunity to try their hand at flying a drone!

We asked Mr. Vespa to share some information about himself and his company as a special alumni spotlight feature.

Q: Would you tell us a little about yourself?
A: I was born and raised in M-W. I attended Sapphire and Pine Tree Elementary, MWMS and graduated from MWHS in the class of 2010. I was not a great student. I struggled quite a bit and focusing in class did not come easy for me. However, I always had great support both in school and at home. I was on the wrestling team in high school and was fortunate enough to have earned All-State and All-American honors.

After high school, I worked with 2 venture capital firms, allowing me to travel and live in many different places like New York City, California, Las Vegas, Australia, New Zealand and more.

Now I am working on various projects and with various companies, particularly STEM North America. Prior to founding STEM, I worked with an Australian Aerospace company based in Sydney, Australia, developing new drone technology for educational and military purposes.

Q: Why did you form STEM North America?
A: For those who are not aware, according to the U.S Department of Education, the U.S ranks at around #35 for students K-12 in “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), when compared to other countries globally. STEM North America is an ed-tech company that I created to help support educators and students in STEM. We provide a complete Drone Integration Program, which teaches very basic concepts like block coding for students in grades 3+. Ultimately, we seek to engage more students toward STEM-related careers and provide educators with the professional development to feel confident in doing so. 

Q: What is the connection between schools and your company?
A: The biggest connection I see between STEM and school districts is the simple fact that we are essentially bringing the industry to the classroom. At STEM we also provide Professional Drone Services like photogrammetry and land surveying projects for large engineering firms like LAN Associates, who is working with the district on the upgrade to the athletic facilities. I find it incredible that students are actually working with the same drones that we use for LAN. However, students use a much safer model that is designed for educational purposes. I think that is a great connection that STEM offers.

Q: What does the curriculum entail?
A: The curriculum is designed to meet NextGen and CommonCore standards and learning outcomes. The curriculum includes digital copy, hard copy, professional development, student resources and more.

Q: What’s your long-term goal?
A: With the recent advancement in space exploration from NASA and SPACEX, I would like to go to space one day. My biggest long term goal would be to work with students who have successfully completed  our programs and have them assist in space exploration with us (STEM) after they graduate. Long term, I would also like to spend time in other countries developing and advancing education/quality of life in any ways possible.

Q: What do you hope students gain from their experience?
A: I hope students realize that THEY are the future innovators. I hope they are creative with their ideas on how drones can be applied to the world.

Q: How do you think your M-W education has prepared you for the “real world?”
A: At M-W I was able to learn problem solving skills that I continue to apply as I get older.

Q: Anything else you want to share?
A: According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there are approximately 73,000 registered drone pilots. That number is expected to triple by 2020. We want to prepare students for the upcoming demand of drone pilots. Drone Pilots can be certified as young as 16 years old. Once certified, they can make anywhere $50-200 per hour; not a bad summer job for a student, in my opinion.

Middle school students listen to a drone presentation in technology class.

Assistant Superintendent for Compliance and Information Systems Bhargav Vyas speaks to students about drone technology.

Middle school students try out drones outside at the middle school.

M-W alumni Michael Vespa demonstrates how to fly a drone for middle school students.