New STEM courses taking flight at Missouri college

By Gina Tarte

St. Louis is positioned to become the global center for geospatial technologies, largely due to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s 75-year presence in the area and its substantial $1.75 billion investment in a new headquarters currently under construction.

This significant commitment has propelled the region to the forefront of the geospatial technology sector, creating abundant opportunities. Among the high-demand, high-wage careers in this industry are drone pilots and geographic information systems (GIS) specialists.

In response to these promising prospects, St. Louis Community College (STLCC) is actively developing coursework to prepare students for careers in geospatial technology. Stephen W. White, campus president and chief academic officer at STLCC-Wildwood, and Tom McGovern, dean of STEM at STLCC-Florissant Valley, are leading the effort.

“This is a really exciting time because we’re expanding our STEM offerings to meet workforce demands for geospatial technology professionals,” White said. “Whether you are looking to launch your career or enhance your expertise, these new courses will provide you with the essential skills needed to unlock new and exciting professional opportunities.”

New GST courses

This fall, the college will offer two geospatial technology (GST) courses at its Florissant Valley and Wildwood campuses. Both courses serve as introductory-level classes tailored for students with no prior experience in the field of geospatial technology.

One course, GST102, aims to prepare students to become a certified drone pilot through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The other course, GST101, focuses on the industry-standard ArcGIS mapping products and their various modules for exploratory research and spatial analysis.

Eventually, the college plans to offer an approved GST degree or certificate program that builds upon the concepts taught in these courses.

“Employers have told us that if you can fly a drone, collect data and plot that data on maps, they’ll have a job for you,” White said. “So, we’re working to ensure that our GST courses are relevant and rigorous and are designed to set students up for success.”

Faculty spotlight

The faculty for these courses couldn’t agree more.

Awad Lemnifi is slated to teach GST101. An experienced instructor, he holds both a doctorate in mining engineering and a doctorate in geology and geophysics from Missouri University of Science and Technology.

“GIS specialists are in high demand, given their crucial role in handling spatial data, performing analyses and providing valuable insights for decision-making in diverse sectors such as urban planning, environmental management and disaster response,” Lemnifi said. “In this course, students will be introduced to the scientific and technical fundamentals of GIS, with the goal of equipping them with the expertise to utilize spatial information effectively and prepare for careers in various fields and industries.”

According to Louis Kelly, a professional drone pilot and the instructor for GST102, the demand for skilled drone pilots is also skyrocketing. The reason, he said, is because drones are now being used in a variety of sectors, including real estate, agriculture, film production, infrastructure inspection and more.

His interest in drone technology stems from a lengthy career as a facilities and construction manager, including a noteworthy 14-year tenure at Boeing, where he served as the lead facility engineer for the Boeing F-15SA Fighter Aircraft program.

“Drones are undoubtedly the future, and the technology is constantly evolving to keep up with their potential,” he said. “The drone industry’s rapid expansion presents numerous opportunities for individuals who possess their Part 107 license, allowing them to capitalize on drone piloting and earn income. In GST102, students will benefit from hands-on learning opportunities designed to maximize their understanding of drones and provide them with the expertise needed to become a professional drone pilot.”

STLCC transformed

Along with the college’s focus on new GST coursework, new technology and facilities investments are underway to support student learning. These investments are part of STLCC Transformed, a collegewide initiative to modernize facilities and programs.

At Wildwood, the campus is constructing the Center for Health Sciences and Technology, an $84.5 million building that will feature an outdoor lab with a large, netted enclosure for drone technology and geospatial information systems. Similarly, Florissant Valley is preparing to break ground on the Advanced Manufacturing Center, which will be a 96,000-square-foot building equipped with specialized netting structures for hands-on drone pilot training. Both buildings are slated to open in 2025.

“STEM jobs are the future of our economy, and right now, there are more jobs than workers who are qualified for them,” McGovern said. “With the world becoming increasingly complex and competitive, we want to provide students with a strong STEM foundation. We know that if we do this, our students will be prepared for high-skill, high-demand, high-wage jobs.”

This article originally appeared here.

Gina Tarte

is the STLCC-Wildwood campus coordinator within the St. Louis Community College marketing and communications department.