BROOKSVILLE — Central High School Navy Junior ROTC students have a new opportunity this year to reach for the sky through the school’s new aerospace technology academy.
Students can potentially earn Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University regional college credits, Federal Aviation Administration unmanned aerial vehicle safety certifications and other unmanned aviation certifications by completing the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program.
"We have a contract with Embry-Riddle to teach courses as adjunct professors here at the high school and promote aviation," said Central JROTC senior naval science instructor Maj. Christopher Nolf. "It was a good opportunity to branch out into the technical programs that are out there."
The academy is not for everyone. Students must be enrolled in the NJROTC program, complete a STEM application and be recommended by a math teacher, science teacher or guidance counselor.
The class is currently taught by adjunct professor Dale Dean, who is associated with Embry-Riddle and lives outside Hernando County. He communicates with students via video teleconferencing three days a week, with Nolf acting in an administrative support role and teaching the other two days.
Nolf is in the process of earning his master’s degree to become an adjunct professor with Embry-Riddle, which will enable him to take over instruction from Dean. Nolf expects his 23 years of experience in the Marine Corps to factor into obtaining his aerospace technology certification.
"I was an air control manager," he said, stateside and overseas.
The academy offers several courses over four years: Naval Science, Principles of Aeronautical Science, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Systems, Unmanned Aircraft System Security, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operation and Cross Country Data Entry, UAS Applications in Aerial Photography and Principles of Management. There are currently 10 students enrolled.
One of those is Daniel Gregory, 17. As a senior, it is too late for him to benefit from the four-year program, but he is able to take classes at least this year.
"It seemed like it would be an exciting class to take," Gregory said. "Besides, I might learn something."
Gregory is looking forward to flying drones next semester.
He hopes to get an NROTC scholarship and attend a university, although he has not yet chosen one. He is interested in electric engineering and is considering becoming an explosive ordnance disposal officer.
"I want an exciting career," he said.
Nolf is in his second year at Central, his second career after the military. He said he moved from the military to teaching to be closer to family. And he seems to enjoy the school environment.
"I like the continuation of seeing the cadet grow," he said.