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!

In the eleventh episode of Futureproof Focus Podcast, Dr. Sharon B. De Vivo, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Loretta Alkalay, regulatory consultant, aviation attorney and adjunct professor at Vaughn for an inspiring conversation about what sparked both her love for aviation and her passion for drones.

Loretta Alkalay: An impressive career

It is not every day that you meet an attorney who has a 30-year background with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), let alone one who is a professor and an avid drone enthusiast. Meet Loretta Alkalay. If you are wondering how she has done all of this—and then some—she has a remarkable story to tell.

“It all began at New York University, where I was studying for my law degree,” she said. “One semester, I took an aviation class as an elective. That was all it took to spark my love for aviation and the law. I was hooked!” During her second year of law school, Alkalay kept her excitement of aviation in full swing by working for a law firm that handled aviation-related cases. She then went on to interview at the FAA, where she was hired and served as an aviation attorney for the next 30 years.

Then, in 2011, Alkalay decided she wanted to share her knowledge of aviation law and took a position at Vaughn College, where she co-taught a class. “It wasn’t until I began teaching at Vaughn that I became interested in drones,” she explained. “The students would play drone videos in class. I was thrilled to see what they could do.” Adding a love of photography to her list of passions, Alkalay said she could not wait to buy a drone that was outfitted with a camera. “I bought the first one that came to market,” she said excitedly. “I love taking still photography—specifically abstract Earth photography. I love the view of Earth from above. It’s amazing.”

Preparing students for careers with drones

Alkalay is excited about where the future of drones is headed. “There are so many career pathways with drones that students can take,” she stated. “Any jobs that were done by a helicopter or aircraft can be done by a drone today.” She said that in addition to drone pilot jobs in delivery and surveying, there are several other careers in areas of drone technology that students can pursue, including: software, photography and sensors.

Attracting more women to uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV)

As an institution steeped in diversity, Vaughn is committed to help attract more women to the field of engineering and aviation. Alkalay pointed out that although the barriers to working as a drone pilot are few, the number of women currently entering the field is still low due to low awareness, compounded by it being a historically male dominated field. She mentioned how Vaughn is working with local high schools to recruit more girls to its FAA-UAS Certificate Program with the help of a FAA grant. “I’m grateful to be able to participate in the high school program,” she said humbly. “The issue I am seeing is that we are starting too late. I believe we must introduce drones to children at an earlier age and eliminate the stigma of it being an overly technical and mathematical field.”

As a professor of drone law and an expert in the field, Alkalay offered suggestions on ways to recruit more women into the field of uncrewed aerial systems. These include:

  • Make the workplace more accommodating for women. Discrimination and harassment in technology fields is still prevalent. Women must feel more welcome and comfortable working in the field.
  • Make the pathway to the field clear and simple.
  • Highlight the myriad of career opportunities to create excitement.
  • Introduce drones as a viable career path to students at a younger age – and find ways to make it fun, such as creating games and races with drones.

Tips for success

As one of the most popular professors on campus, Alkalay is excited about seeing her students succeed—especially in a field that continues to grow and evolve so quickly. She offered some advice and helpful tips for students who are looking to get involved.

Ways to prepare for a career in UAV

  • Use LinkedIn to connect with people working in the field.
  • Take drone courses, such as those taught at Vaughn.
  • Join the UAV Club at Vaughn for hands-on experience building and flying drones and participating in competitions.
  • Consider this field even if you are studying flight, maintenance or air traffic control. Knowledge is transferable.

Tips for success

  • Be on time.
  • Always be prepared.
  • Have integrity.
  • Know your subject matter.
  • Ask questions.

Looking towards the future

Alkalay is excited to proclaim that the sky is literally the limit for aspiring students seeking a career in this exciting and futureproof field. “Anyone who has a drone license or a specialty in drones will be hired immediately,” she stated. “There are so many opportunities for our students now.”

As a fan of drones herself, DeVivo strongly believes that the time for students to consider a career in the field of uncrewed aerial systems is now: “The field of uncrewed aerial systems is constantly—and quickly—evolving. As new technologies become available, it’s making for a fun and fast-paced field to pursue—not to mention the incredible earning potential and awesome career trajectory.”

Do you want to become an uncrewed aircraft systems operator? Vaughn’s cutting-edge UAS design, application and operation certification program can prepare you for this exciting career. High school students can learn more about our program here. Happy flying!

Listen to the podcast in its entirety here.