In episode 14 of Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president and chief executive officer of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Elena Buenrostro, chief executive officer of Women Who Drone for an inspiring conversation about what sparked her passion for uncrewed aerial systems or drones. Learn how she turned that passion into an online community that is paving the way for women of all ages to discover their passion for drones.

Discovering the “wings for her passion”

At an early age, Buenrostro dreamed of visiting the Great Wall of China. Seven years ago, she made that dream come true—but not before embarking on a journey to the skies. She explained how this region of China was so vast and magnificent that she wanted to capture every moment. In early 2017, she purchased her first drone and taught herself how to operate it. Three weeks later, she was off to China. “I was careful to visit the ‘off the beaten path’ part of the area where there weren’t many visitors,” she explained. “It was there that I captured amazing content with my new drone and fell in love with the drone experience. At that moment I realized I had found the ‘wings for my passion’ to capture the world.” From that moment on, Buenrostro said she couldn’t wait to travel to more exciting destinations. “It was the right time for me to embrace the drone industry and become a Part 107 licensed drone pilot.”

Life coming full circle

As a Latina woman and first-generation high school and college graduate, Buenrostro is proof positive that anything is possible when you follow your dreams. “When I was 16 years old, I wanted to become a pilot,” she said. “I soon discovered the cost at the time was out of reach. It was then that I gave up on my dream of becoming a pilot and realized I would be taking the college route to my future.”

After graduating from high school, Buenrostro attended University of California San Diego, where she majored in aerospace engineering. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that aerospace engineering was not the right path for my future. Math and science were not for me!” she said laughingly. What was right for her—she soon discovered—was her passion for storytelling. “I switched things up and started taking theatre and film courses instead,” she said happily. “It was then that I discovered my love for storytelling. The most incredible part, she realizes, is how her life has since come full circle. “My dream as a child was to become a pilot, but my true calling is to be a storyteller. It’s amazing how my passions have combined—telling stories as a drone pilot.”

Paving the way for ‘Women Who Drone’

Reflecting on her trip to the Great Wall of China, Buenrostro revealed that her experience in that country paved the way to her company—Women Who Drone. “I formed the company in October 2017 as an online social media platform through Facebook and Instagram to inspire, educate and empower women and girls with drone technology,” she explained. “Since then, our online community has grown to reach women around the world, paving the way for women in the growing drone industry. The stories we are telling through Women Who Drone are sparking interest around the world. It’s proving how important it is to find your interests and passion and to see where your path will lead.” When asked about the services offered by Women Who Drone, Buenrostro was excited to share the benefits:

  • Opportunities to inspire by sharing stories.
  • Educate through online courses, workshops and partnerships where participants can monetize their video footage and even pursue exciting
  • Offers a Part 107 online drone course to educate women on current drone law and how to become licensed.
  • Empower women to connect with other drone enthusiasts through a job database.

Setting her sights on the future

In addition to being a Part 107 drone pilot, content creator and founder of Women Who Drone, Buenrostro works as a brand marketer at Google. Along with these achievements, she’s also an international public speaker who shares her drone knowledge at conferences and universities across the globe. When asked what the future holds for Women Who Drone, Buenrostro didn’t hesitate by saying: “My focus is to inspire the younger generation of girls. I want to start working more closely with middle schools and high schools. It’s important to introduce drone technology to kids when they’re young.” To make this goal happen, Buenrostro is currently working with the San Diego Department of Education to train teachers on the subject where schools will begin holding summer drone camps.

When it comes to diversity and overcoming obstacles, Buenrostro explained the importance of having positive role models. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said poignantly. “My focus is to have more speaking engagements at the schools and spread the word about drones through storytelling. It’s just like planting a mustard seed. It may be small, but with time and nurturing, you can watch it grow.”

Vaughn loves drones!

As a leading aviation and engineering institution, Vaughn students have the unique opportunity to not only learn about drones and drone law, but the College offers several gateways to the industry that prepare students for drone careers. Here are some of the exciting ways Vaughn brings the love of drone technology to its students:

Dr. DeVivo shared that Vaughn is dedicated to exposing students to drone careers at an early age. “The field of uncrewed aerial systems is an excellent ‘gateway’ to a variety of career paths that span across multiple industries. The global drone market is growing rapidly and new jobs are continually emerging – it’s a smart career choice.”

Are you interested in a career with drones? Vaughn has many engineering degree programs to help make it happen. Apply today!

By Sharon B. DeVivo, President and CEO of Vaughn College, as originally published in the June 3-16, 2024 issue of “Aviation Week”

Are you searching for new entry-level talent and thinking, “Where did everyone go?” The talent is there—you just need to know where to look and to make investments in relationships with institutions and organizations that ensure a long-term pipeline.

The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to change everything. In 2019, workforce demand was already beginning to challenge the industry, and then the world shut down. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic’s impacts and the lingering effects on the supply chain disruptions in both staffing and materials, unemployment is still low, and the face of the workforce is changing. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. workforce will grow older on average until 2054. And because the country’s population growth is slowing, immigrants will be a primary source of new workers.

When I speak to companies, I encourage them to look beyond their traditional methods for reaching the next generation of employees, particularly the colleges and training institutions that they typically use to fill their pipelines for everything from technicians to engineers. I suggest they look to underrepresented populations that have not been exposed to the life-changing trajectory a career in aviation and aerospace offers.

At institutions such as Vaughn College, a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution in New York City with more than 70% of students from underrepresented backgrounds as well as first-generation college students and first-generation Americans, students and families are eager for career pathways that provide long-term professional roads to achieving the American dream. The most significant barrier to reaching these students at an early age is awareness, closely followed by the financial means to afford the education and skills training to set them on those paths.

Across the country, Minority-Serving Institutions—including Historically Black Colleges, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Asian American and Pacific Islander Institutions, and Tribal Colleges—are historically underfunded, despite the contributions they make. Nonetheless, these institutions produce incredible outcomes for the students they serve.

At Vaughn, 98% of students are employed or continuing their education within one year of graduation, 78% of them in their chosen field. Partnerships with industry—such as apprenticeships, internships and site visits—are the key to students’ success. One outside-the-box idea is the relationship Vaughn has with PSA Airlines, which provides financial and personnel support for the Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC) team. Over the past year, PSA staff personally coached our students, and we just had our best showing ever among 90 teams in the AMC at MRO Americas in Chicago. This type of engagement not only allows our students to grow their skill sets and to be better equipped when they join the industry, but it also allows our partners to see potential employees in action.

Another opportunity that goes beyond the traditional recruitment methods is an initiative kicked off this semester with longtime supporter Atlas Air and its Women’s Network in a semester-long mentorship program. Handpicked mentors from Atlas provided guidance, networking and site visits for students in a variety of sectors, such as law, finance and operations, and exposed students to aspects of an airline that they may not have otherwise considered.

The next step is retaining all that great new talent. Over the years, students have shared with me stories about their first professional positions and what they would change if they could. First, they would like to see other people like them at the company they join. This could mean greater diversity in gender, age, ethnicity or other traits that provide a sense of belonging. This diversity also gives them a vision of roles to which they could aspire. Second, many of our engineering students join companies outside of the Northeast U.S. Graduates want to understand the culture of the company they are joining and feel welcome as a person who may come from a different background than most other employees.

Past graduates have sometimes felt they needed to prove themselves repeatedly because of their ethnicity or gender. We counsel students to seek out support systems to help them navigate these barriers and be successful. Solid orientation, mentorship and sponsorship programs that can advocate for such employees can serve as support systems for new professionals.

Are you a New York State resident with the hopes of earning a college degree? Changes to the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (or TAP) may help make attending college, like Vaughn, more affordable for eligible students. The best part is any financial award a student receives is classified as a grant, which means it does not need to be repaid! Read on to learn more about how TAP could help make your dreams of attending college a reality!

What is TAP?

The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) helps eligible New York residents afford tuition at approved schools within the state. Vaughn College is one of these schools. And, as mentioned above, none of the money needs to be paid back!

Exciting changes to TAP

For the first time in 25 years, TAP is increasing the income eligibility to qualify for assistance—as well as the minimum award—which increased from $500 to $1,000.

Here are the new guidelines for the 2024-2025 academic year:

Income of $125,000 or less, net taxable income (NTI)

  • If the applicant is a dependent undergraduate student within a household earning under the income limit, or
  • If the applicant is an independent student (married or single) with tax dependents, or
  • If the applicant has qualified as an orphan, foster child or ward of the court at any time since the age of 13.

Income of $60,000 or less

  • If the applicant is an independent married student who has no tax dependents.

Income of $30,000 or less

  • If the applicant is a single independent student who has no tax dependents.

How much can be awarded?

Eligible students can receive an annual TAP award of up to $5,665, with the minimum award starting at $1,000. You can estimate your TAP award using this estimating tool.

Eligibility requirements

To qualify, students must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be a legal resident of New York State for 12 continuous months.
  • Be a United States citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  • Graduated from a high school in the United States, earned a GED or passed an approved “Ability to Benefit” test.
  • Studied at an approved post-secondary institution in New York.
  • Maintained good academic standing.
  • Be enrolled as a full-time student and complete 12 or more credits per semester. (See below for information on part-time TAP eligibility.)
  • Meet income eligibility limits.

Part-time TAP requirements:

  • Be enrolled in six to 11 credits.
  • Maintain a grade “C” average.
  • Learn more about TAP availability for part-time students.

Anyone who is not a US citizen may qualify under the New York State (NYS) DREAM Act.

Other New York State grants

For students attending private colleges in the region, the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation offers the Enhanced Tuition Awards (ETA) program, which provides tuition awards to students who are New York State residents and study at a participating private college located in New York State. Recipients of ETA will receive $6,000 through a combination of their TAP award, ETA award and a match from their private college. Considered a federal grant like TAP, ETA awards do not need to be repaid.

How to apply

NYS Tuition Assistance Program QR CodeThe easiest way to apply for TAP is by completing the FAFSA form. Use the QR code to start your FAFSA today and apply Vaughn’s FAFSA code: 002665.

New York State residents who attend NYS institutions can link directly to the TAP application from the FAFSA submission confirmation page.

Vaughn is committed to offering an affordable education

Vaughn College is committed to providing an affordable education for students through financial aid, scholarships, grants, federal work-study programs, flexible payment plans and perhaps most importantly, ensuring students graduate with high-paying careers. Reach out to our financial aid or admissions departments to learn more.