Image of three people gathered in a gym and looking at the controls for a drone.

Drone teacher Grant Brewer (right) and Southside junior Brock Slater (middle) showed State Representative and Fort Smith Mayor-elect George McGill (left), who stopped by to visit Southside, how the drone operated before Mr. McGill flew the drone himself.

A University of Arkansas alumnus and member of the Arkansas Alumni Association, Grant Brewer M.Ed. ‘09, is heading up an exciting program in Fort Smith. A former graduate student at the U of A and graduate assistant for the Arkansas Alumni Association, Brewer is using the skill sets he honed on campus to foster the success of a cutting-edge program and 75 students— all at the high school level.

Raised in a small town, Brewer attended East Central University in Oklahoma as an undergraduate and later decided to pursue his master’s degree at the University of Arkansas. He chose the school for its higher education and administration program, originally intending to be a college administrator. His work with the association focused alumni programs and the Student Alumni Board. “The Alumni House is near and dear to my heart,” Brewer said. 

Brewer said his time at the university was special because it felt like he fit four years’ worth of undergraduate experience into two years. While he pursued his master’s degree, he met people from several different areas of the country, fellow students who got their undergrads from California, South Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma and, of course, Arkansas. That was his favorite part, he said, meeting people and fostering networks. Whether instructors, peers or colleagues at the alumni house, Brewer made lifelong connections with people who were role models for higher education, influential career figures and, more than that, friends. 

After graduating in 2009 with a Master of Education in Higher Education, Brewer carried that legacy with him. He moved out of state, met his wife, and eventually moved to Fort Smith to work in the field of STEM education.  “My biggest accomplishment was growing up, maturing,” he said.

Brewer left a position as an educator at an Alma middle school to join the innovative program at Southside High School in Fort Smith. Created by a division of the Arkansas Department of Education, it is paving the way for drone education as a field and career-focused course option at the high school level. Southside High School is one of seven school across the state piloting a drone education program, and Grant Brewer is at the forefront. He is in his second year now teaching sophomore, junior and senior students enrolled in the three-year track. They are preparing to become licensed drone operators and when they graduate, they will be equipped to enter the field in a variety of ways. 

To prep for his role teaching the course, Brewer completed an intensive one-week certification boot camp administered by the Federal Aviation Association and became a legally licensed drone operator.

Brewer’s students learn the commercial capacities of drones and, essentially, all the ways the technology can earn money. Students can choose to enter the field straight out of high school working for realtors to get aerial shots of spaces. Or, he said, they can go to post-secondary school at one of the many colleges emphasizing drone education. Beyond this, some will apply their skills in a military-focused position—unmanned air vehicles are becoming very important in a lot of different departments, not just the air force.

“There are a lot of ways these students can get involved with the industry,” said Brewer.

It’s been exciting experience for Brewer, and it still is, but in some ways, he’s still working to take it all in. “It’s still a learning process, I’m still going through it,” he said of the unique opportunity. “Not many people can say this is what they do all day, especially at the high school level, teaching about an up-and-coming, cutting-edge field.”

He never forgot his Razorback roots. Now, the University of Arkansas is “displayed loud and proud” in his classroom, from his framed diploma for all to see to a watercolor painting. October was college awareness month, and Brewer happily served as an ambassador for the institution with his students and continues to do so. With any luck, he will encourage many of them to pursue college education in their future. Some of them may even become Razorbacks.

Brewer has a few pieces of advice for those future U of A alumni and all the students pursuing degrees now. “Network. There’s a huge alumni base there for you—they’re friendly and always helpful. Don’t take your time on campus for granted. See where your degree and your experiences can take you, and get involved. You never know where what you’re doing now will lead.”

After all, he sure didn’t.