Big Bend takes off: Unmanned aerial systems programs gains accreditation

Print Article

Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Rafael Villalobos operates a rotocopter used in the Big Bend Community College unmanned aerial systems program. The UAS program received accreditation last week.

MOSES LAKE — Big Bend Community College has been offering unmanned aerial systems classes since fall 2016, but starting in January students can receive an Associate of Applied Science degree in the program.

The college received notice last week that the program has received accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Big Bend also received accreditation for a “certificate of achievement” in its mechatronics program.

Accreditation means students taking those classes will qualify to receive financial aid for them, said program director Pat Ford. And training in both unmanned aerial systems and mechatronics will open up opportunities in a growing number of jobs, he added.

Unmanned aerial systems are what they sound like, and actually, versions of them are available in the toy and hobby aisle. Their applications, however, go way beyond flying around the neighborhood.

The BBCC program includes fixed-wing craft as well as rotorcraft, and teaches system programming and troubleshooting as well as flight operations. The mechatronics program is required to receive a UAS management degree. But the possible applications for mechatronics are more than aviation, said instructor Gary Baker.

It’s not just that technology has made it possible to fly a drone while sitting in a chair. Baker said technology has allowed students to afford the tools they need to learn mechatronics.

“We’re teaching about microprocessors and microcontrollers as it relates to robotics,” Baker said. Those are crucial when flying an unmanned aerial vehicle, but the technology is applied throughout modern manufacturing and business, Baker said. And he said he expects the use, and the application, to keep expanding.

The accessibility of the technology means students have access to advanced systems at a very affordable price, Baker said. During the program students learn to, among other things, build their own 3D printers.

“They’re not left with a book and some memories, they’re left with some hardware,” Baker said. Students get the theory, and then build their own systems. When students graduate “they’re not dependent on the school anymore. They have this equipment, and they’re ready to rock and roll.”

Aviation is only the start of the career possibilities, Ford said. Most modern manufacturers use micro systems; cars have them, they’re used on most modern assembly lines, “we’re using microprocessors on sprinkler systems. They’re everywhere.”

Program assistant Laura Goodell said a friend of hers, a real estate agent, took the course and now does all the aerial photography for her office. “And we haven’t touched on the applications in agriculture,” Baker said.

The field is wide open. “We have at least one retiree in our program now,” Ford said. The program has Running Start students, people working toward engineering degrees, people retraining for new careers.

Jim Leland is one of those people in retraining. “I recognized that this is an emerging technology,” he said. He was laid off from his job at REC and had to find something else. “In talking about what I wanted to do, this just jumped out.”

Kate Carey is the retiree; she was laid off when she got to 65 years of age, but wasn’t ready to retire just yet. At the urging of a friend she moved to Ephrata and started looking around for something new. “What an opportunity,” she said.

People who want more information about the program can contact the college admissions office, 509-793-2061, or visit

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at

Print Article

Read More School News

MLSD sells $45 million in school construction bonds

October 14, 2018 at 5:00 am | Columbia Basin Herald MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School has finally sold some school construction bonds. Speaking at a regular meeting of the Moses Lake School Board on Thursday, Superintendent Josh Meek said the first ...


Read More

Composer pens piece for MLHS band

October 14, 2018 at 5:00 am | Columbia Basin Herald MOSES LAKE — It all began when composer Darryl Johnson II was here last year to have the Moses Lake High School band perform some of his music. Johnson, who writes music for high school bands and or...


Read More

School security discussed at Othello board meeting

October 10, 2018 at 5:00 am | Columbia Basin Herald OTHELLO — Security at Othello schools was the subject of an extensive discussion at the regular Othello School Board meeting Monday. Part of the discussion centered around what board chair Rob Simmon...


Read More

MLSD gets ready to sell construction bonds

October 02, 2018 at 5:00 am | Columbia Basin Herald MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake School District hopes to have $50 million in school construction bonds sold and in the bank by Nov. 1. According to Trevor Carlson, a managing director with PiperJaffray,...


Read More

Contact Us

(509) 765-4561
PO Box 910
Moses Lake, WA 98837

©2018 Columbia Basin Herald Terms of Use Privacy Policy