UF drone camp steers 4-H teens toward future careers

While many of his high school classmates relished the lackadaisical days of summer break, Putnam County resident Liam Sayler memorized Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and the basics of aerodynamics. But Liam’s tenacity ultimately paid off when he passed an FAA exam, certifying he is qualified to fly a drone. He’ll share his accomplishment and the process he went through to earn it during next week’s Putnam County Commission meeting.

Florida 4-H drone flying
Lance Dollar, far right, observes as a Florida 4-H student flies ones of Dollar’s drones at the Putnam County Fairgrounds. Photo by Megan Winslow, UF/IFAS

Liam is one of eight Florida 4-H members who took a drone camp offered by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension Putnam County last month.

Some camp participants plan to apply their new skills toward aerial photography jobs in the real estate, construction and agriculture sectors. One of the teens considers the certificate a stepping stone to securing a pilot’s license. Another desires to use drone photography as a firefighter.

“I am so proud of these students,” said Wendy Mussoline, director of UF/IFAS Extension Putnam County. “They dedicated a week of their summer to commit to an intensive academic drone training program and obtained their licenses. I believe this experience can truly enhance their future career endeavors.”

A team of UF/IFAS employees taught the class: Brittany Hall-Scharf, a Florida Sea Grant marine agent for UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County; Matthew Smith, a commercial crops and food systems agent for UF/IFAS Extension Lake and Orange counties; Joseph “Stacy” Strickland, an agriculture agent for UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County; and Tim Wilson, a livestock agent for UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns County.

All four instructors are certified drone pilots. For the past six years, they have provided drone training for UF/IFAS employees and for state agencies, including the Florida Forest Service.

The only skills separating the UF/IFAS drone curriculum from that taught to future airplane pilots is fuel management and night flight, said Strickland, a certified airplane pilot.

“This is a job skill,” he said. “These students can go out today with a drone license and start working — and for really good money too. We’ve had students who, after school, would fly a drone and make hundreds of dollars in an afternoon.”

One 4-H member from a past camp applied the money he made as a real estate drone photographer toward paying for his flight hours to become an airplane pilot.

drone flying
Lance Dollar, in orange shirt, demonstrates takeoff and landing maneuvers for students and for Joseph “Stacy” Strickland, an agriculture agent for UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County, far right. Photo by Megan Winslow, UF/IFAS

This year, camp instructors arranged for a young entrepreneur to share his expertise.

Lance Dollar, a 2024 graduate of Q.I. Roberts Junior-Senior High School in Florahome, launched a business using drones to take photographs and videos of agricultural operations, sporting events and property advertised for sale.

Dollar allowed the campers to use his drones, and they practiced take-offs, landings and following square perimeters created by pool noodles. Later, they broke off into two groups; one used the drones to snap aerial photos of the Extension office building as if marketing the property for sale, and the other photographed two adjacent Putnam County Fairgrounds buildings from the sky as if conducting roof inspections.

The Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District sponsored this year’s camp, supplying $5,500 so students only paid $25 for services valued at $450: The week-long course, lunches, a ride to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the exam campers took on the university’s Daytona campus.

While the next drone camp has yet to be scheduled, Mussoline hopes additional funding will make it possible for more young people to master drone flight and potentially apply their skills to future careers.


The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  |  @UF_IFAS

4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university system and Cooperative Extension System. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5 to 18 with the objective of developing youth as individuals, and as responsible and productive citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administered by University of Florida/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University.


Megan Winslow
Posted: July 1, 2024

Category: 4-H & Youth, Camp, Professional Development, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: Brittany Hall-Scharf, Camp, Career Development, Dollar Drone Company, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Extension Putnam County, Florida 4-H, Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences, Job Skills, Joseph “Stacy” Strickland, Lance Dollar, Matthew Smith, Megan Winslow, Putnam County Commission, Putnam County Fairgrounds, Tim Wilson, UF/IFAS, University Of Florida, Wendy Mussoline

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