Wild drone video from Brazil captures the moment an alligator tries to take a bite out of a drone.

DENMARK – Voorhees University has received $25,000 in scholarship funding from AINautics to train and certify 30 students to be drone pilots and create a drone operational team at the university.

The check was presented during the annual spring faculty and staff institute Jan. 4.

The partnership, announced by Damara Hightower Mitchell, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Voorhees, will prepare students to enter an industry with starting salaries of more than $50,000.

“We are happy to partner with Voorhees. We had initially planned to provide support for 25 scholars, but we are now prepared to support 30 scholars,” said Christopher Williams, director of partnership development for AINautics. “We will also interview and hire some scholars who receive drone pilot certifications.”

“We look forward to our partnership with AINautics and preparing our students for a career increasing in demand,” Voorhees University President Ronnie Hopkins said.

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Williams indicated that while students are the priority for the partnership, community residents and others can participate in the training and certification program.

AINautics provides innovative drone-based solutions to support the needs of its clients. The company serves clients in a number of areas, including agricultural services, surveying and mapping.

During the faculty and staff institute, Hopkins discussed the university’s 2022-2027 strategic plan, the master plan and successes in 2022.

Hopkins said the university’s mission is the cornerstone of the strategic plan.

“Voorhees University is a private, historically Black liberal arts institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church, whose mission is to produce highly qualified graduates who coalesce intellect and faith in pursuit of life-long learning, healthy living, the betterment of society and an abiding faith in God,” he said.

He encouraged employees to familiarize themselves with the plan and understand their roles in achieving its goals.

He also shared the strategic priorities: academic excellence and student success, talent acquisition, leverage and leadership, accountability and stability and sustainability.

Hopkins said that with the approval of the university as a graduate degree-granting institution by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the next goal is for Voorhees to become a level-five institution offering doctoral degrees. A plan will be submitted to SACSCOC by the end of 2023.

Hopkins encouraged deans and faculty to become more involved in recruitment as his goal is to grow enrollment to 800 students by fall 2027.

Discussing the university’s master plan, capital improvements and successes rounded out the president’s presentation.

“We will focus on deferred maintenance, particularly on HVAC issues throughout the campus. We also will look at using some of the university’s 378 acres for organic and solar farming and maximizing renewable energy,” he said.

“Our master plan includes the construction of a campus and community center, which will contain student affairs and student government association offices along with a skating rink, a movie theater (doubling as an auditorium), bowling lanes, business incubator spaces, a barber shop, hair and nail studios, a food court, a campus store, a post office, a university pantry, a ballroom and a veterans resource center,” he said.

He also mentioned constructing new academic facilities, residence halls and living and learning centers that meet the needs and expectations of 21st-century students.

Other capital improvement projects include construction of a university-owned hotel, restoration of six university houses and development of a university community garden and greenhouse.

Hopkins was excited to share the university’s successes, which include the celebration of its 125th anniversary, his inauguration, the name change from Voorhees College to Voorhees University and impressive Best College rankings by U.S. News and World Report.

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