Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Senator Roy Blunt visits Southeast drone program

Friday, August 30, 2019
Seniors (left) Nathan McKlin and (right) Brigham Haase show Senator Roy Blunt how to operate a drone on the practice field on Thursday, Aug. 29.
Photos by Brooke Holford

The only of its kind in Missouri, Southeast’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) major is attracting statewide attention.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said he has been interested in the program since before it began in 2017. On Thursday, Aug. 29, he visited Southeast’s campus to take a tour of the Polytechnic building and see the UAS program in person.

“I’ve talked to Dr. Vargas about this program since he began to think about doing it,” Blunt said. “Clearly there’s a market here for trained people [who] are gonna be out here in the world of autonomous aircraft.”

Chairperson for the Department of Engineering and Technology Brad Deken led the tour, showing Senator Blunt a variety of different labs, equipment and student projects.

“There’s a lot of expensive stuff in this building, and it’s expensive to maintain so we couldn’t do a lot of what we do without state support,” Deken said. “So [showing him] is kind of reiterating to him how important those funds are to us but also that we feel like we are using these funds wisely.”

Accompanying on the tour was Southeast President Carlos Vargas and dean for the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Tamela Randolph. Also in attendance was Rep. Kathryn Swan and County Commissioners Clint Tracy and Paul Koeper.

Graduate assistant for the manufacturing lab and technology management masters student Tareq Almahm was cutting a design into a metal block as the group passed through. He gave the finished product to Blunt, a large coaster featuring a Redhawk, cutout of the Academic dome and the word, ‘Southeast.’

After making their way through the Polytechnic building, the small group went over to the practice field to watch students demonstrate flying the drones.

“The new door that’s open and opening wider every single day is in this kind of aircraft, sometimes referred to as drones,” Blunt said. “There’s all kinds of work to be done here, particularly in agriculture, that in the past was either impossible or would be done in a much more expensive way, now can be done by an unmanned aircraft.”

Senior Nathan McKlin, a UAS major, was one of the students who got to show off his flying skills.

“Being able to just show off what we’ve learned, and how we’ve developed the program to the senator was a really exciting experience,” McKlin said. “The program is headed into the perfect direction for what drones are good for — attention is really all it needs.”

Deken agreed and noted because the program is so new, many people don’t know about it. He said he hoped the senator’s visit would help bring attention to the program and get the word out.

“I certainly hope that if legislation, or even discussion of manufacturing or other topics come up, I hope he will remember some of the things we do and how important these things are and help us make those connections as well,” Deken said.