From Drone Maintenance to Working Alongside NASA; Lone Star UAS Center Students are Soaring High

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence & Innovation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi achieves brilliance not only through its innovative research endeavors, but also through the high-performing students who work under its umbrella.

One such student, Amanda Niederriter, a sophomore studying environmental and occupational safety, helps keep inventory of all UAS aircraft and their parts and helps manage the Education and Science Integration Lab in order to maintain compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

“They really want their interns to apply themselves and they push us to use our knowledge and skills to contribute to the center,” Niederriter said.

Despite only working at Lone Star since December 2018, Niederriter has already introduced new programming measures.

“When it’s fully up and running, the program will ensure full accountability across the board for maintenance being performed on specific drone parts,” she said.

As a veteran who served in the Navy for more than six years, Niederriter appreciates the veteran-friendly environment of Lone Star.

“They love veterans, they love working with veterans, and a lot of the people employed here are veterans,” Niederriter said. “But whether you’re a veteran or not, they’re going to push you to build your skillset. You’re not just doing a normal job, it’s much more than that.”

Michael Sanders, Acting Executive Director of Lone Star, says he is endlessly impressed with the quality of work produced by student interns.

“No matter if they’re a student or full-time staff member, each person at Lone Star has integral skills and ideas to contribute,” Sanders said. “I encourage everyone to bring their best every day and my staff consistently steps up to that challenge.”

Michael Alcala, a freshman computer science major, works as a software engineering intern at the center. As part of his job, Alcala assists with data analysis and building UAS programs. For example, when Lone Star has a large data sample from a drone that needs processing, Alcala writes code that organizes that data so it can be used by others.

“I’ve learned a lot from my time here, like a variety of code languages and different ways to implement those languages,” Alcala said. “The knowledge I’m gaining here is something that I will carry with me as I make a career one day.”

According to Alcala, Lone Star provides him many opportunities to work in many different capacities.

“It’s not what you see in movies where the intern is doing coffee runs,” said Alcala. “My supervisor will get program assignments and he’ll give me that assignment because he knows I can handle it.”

Joe Escobar, a senior communication studies student with a minor in public relations, helps manage Lone Star’s online social media presence, a task that he says will benefit him in his future career. 

“It gives me the chance to get real world experience in my field, something I know my future employers will want,” Escobar said. “I’m learning how to build relationships with different people in the community and the work with natural disasters teaches me about crisis management.”

Escobar is especially excited about the center’s partnership with NASA. NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management project selected Lone Star to test drone traffic management. The Island University is one of only two test sites selected nationwide.

“We’re working on some cutting-edge technology with NASA, and you don’t typically think of Corpus Christi as a place where that happens,” Escobar said. “It’s amazing to get the honor to say I was an intern at a center that worked with NASA on this special project.”

With all the amazing opportunities provided to her, Niederriter says the most important thing she’s learned from her time at Lone Star is hard work.

“There are a lot of possibilities on the road ahead for me in UAS industries,” she said. “If you’re willing to do the work, you can find somewhere where you’re needed.”

To learn more about Lone Star, visit their website. To interact with them on social media, visit them on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.