Marshall fund execs tour ECSU aviation offerings

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund will look at further uplifting Elizabeth City State University, where the president of the national nonprofit toured the campus’s Aviation Science laboratories Monday.

ECSU officials gave TMCF President Harry Williams a hands-on tour of the campus’s signature Aviation Science program. That includes the program’s drones’ lab, where Aviation Science Director Kuldeep Rawat touted ECSU’s courses in unmanned aircraft systems – and its plans to become one of the few universities in the region to offer a four-year degree in UAS. ECSU is looking to offer that degree in 2019, Rawat has previously said.

Williams explained Monday that TMCF has long supported students at ECSU and its other member institutions. One notable example was in 2016 when ECSU announced a TMCF partnership with Apple to offer scholarships to students in certain tech- or science-oriented fields.

In Monday’s visit, however, Williams said he was focused on another “pillar” of the nonprofit’s mission: “capacity building.” Noting he was joined by TMCF’s assistant vice president for government relations, Sean Burns, he said TMCF works with its members to identify public and private funding sources. It also works to promote members’ programs to the corporate world, and ask major companies’ support in helping its universities train their future employees, he said.

There should also be no shortage of employers interested in ECSU’s UAS program, Rawat told Williams and Burns Monday. Drones have hundreds of commercial applications, he said, including land surveying and monitoring crops, inspecting tall structures such as cell phone towers and wind turbines, and law enforcement. He also showed them that ECSU’s drones, including both rotary and fixed-wing units, can be outfitted with various specialized cameras and imaging devices, including Lidar units that provide 3D, digital maps of terrain and structures.

Rawat and other ECSU professors also introduced Williams to ECSU’s flight simulator and air traffic control labs, and to two Aviation Science students present Monday. They were Briana Rountree and Bryana Williams. Williams shared her goal is to become a pilot for the Navy.

Williams didn’t offer any new funding or initiatives for ECSU or its aviation program Monday, but said being familiar with the program will help him better advocate for it and ECSU. That advocacy can help connect corporate resources and investment to institutions, he explained, citing Boeing’s recent announcement of a $6 million program for scholarships, internships and more benefiting eight TCMF members. ECSU is not among them.

Joining Williams for the tour, interim ECSU Chancellor Karrie Dixon welcomed Williams visit, and the continued backing of the TMCF.

“We want people to know ECSU is doing some cutting-edge things,” she said.

Williams said the TMCF supports public, historically black colleges and universities and their students. The fund provides scholarships to first-generation, financially struggling students – virtually all of whom graduate college once they’re able to afford it, he added.