The sky is the limit for the drone technology

South Dakota State marks 'Drone Day' with hands-on event

SDSU Marketing & Communications
Posted 5/20/24

BROOKINGS — Students and faculty at South Dakota State University with support from Lake Area Technical College participated in the second annual “Drone Day” on the SDSU campus …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

The sky is the limit for the drone technology

South Dakota State marks 'Drone Day' with hands-on event


BROOKINGS — Students and faculty at South Dakota State University with support from Lake Area Technical College participated in the second annual “Drone Day” on the SDSU campus April 25, learning more about current uses of the technology and potential career paths available across industries and disciplines.

“The event is designed to highlight the diverse applications of drone technology across various fields,” said Julie Leidholt, an instructor in the Department of Geography and Geospatial Sciences at SDSU and head of the drone program at Lake Area Technical College. “While drone operations may not appeal to everyone, it’s crucial to recognize their broad applicability.”

She added the main goal was to showcase how professionals in the current workforce are leveraging these advancements to enhance industries and contribute to the growth of the scientific community through academic research.

The morning session offered speakers from SDSU, the South Dakota Department of Transportation, City of Sioux Falls, a retired U.S. Army colonel and agricultural industry representatives discussing the potential use for drone technology across various disciplines and fields.

The afternoon sessions provided hands-on experiences including a flight obstacle course and virtual reality drone operation simulations. The drones and virtual reality equipment used at this year’s event were provided by Lake Area Technical College.

Student involvement

Students from SDSU and Lake Area Technical College as well as faculty and staff from both institutions attended the free event. It was open to students from any major.

The SDSU Drone Club serves as an opportunity for students to engage with and learn about unmanned aircraft systems. Members helped in the organization and planning for the event.

High school students from Lower Brule High School and a student and instructor from Oglala Lakota College also attended.

Careers with drones

Drone Day aimed to demonstrate to students the possibilities and uses of unmanned aircraft technology in their future careers.

SDSU offers a minor and certificate program in unmanned aircraft system through the Department of Geography and Geospatial Sciences. The certificate program prepares students to pursue FAA licensing.

This year’s event narrowed in on the career possibilities.

“While you may not be hired specifically as a drone pilot, the skills you acquire can open doors to positions such as a GIS technician or a remote sensing specialist across various industries,” Leidholt said.

Career opportunities with these programs include agriculture, conservation, delivery/fulfillment, disaster mitigation and relief, logistics, filming and photography, geographic information systems mapping technician, law enforcement and real estate.


Jiyul Chang, senior lecturer in the Department of Agronomy, Horticulture and Plant Science at SDSU, discussed the benefits and limitations of using drone technology in agriculture for both producers and academic research.

The technology can be used to monitor and survey fields, providing data and insights into the crops. Chang told attendees the steps of ag uses including pre-flight preparation, surveying and data analyzation.


Representatives from the South Dakota Department of Transportation, Larry Dean, Jon Nelson and Josh Olson, presented on the integration of drone technology into their operations, a process that began in 2019.

In the department, drones are used for bridge and box culverts inspections, large sign inspections, surveys and communications to the public about road construction. Olson, region bridge engineer, said the department is using the more traditional “hands-on” inspections in unison with drone monitoring as a way to maximize resources.

This also leads to the intersection of drone technology and artificial intelligence in finding issues and presenting reports on damage.

To talk about the City of Sioux Falls’ efforts in utilizing drones, Joseph Schmunk, a civic analytics specialist, presented on the municipal use of drone technology including police/public safety, communications, and other surveying, aerial photography and monitoring.


D. Lee Gabel is a retired U.S. Army colonel who spent over seven years in Ukraine as an army attaché and now consults on issues pertaining to the Russian military. He spoke to attendees about the use of drone technology in military conflicts.

Drones can be used by military organizations as a reconnaissance tool, an active weapon or as a communication relay device, according to Gabel.

“Drones are changing everything,” Gabel said of the state of current world conflicts. Efforts are underway now to improve the accuracy of the technology.

The morning sessions concluded with talks from the drone businesses Frontier Precision Unmanned and Terraplex Ag showcasing their technology and operations.