In the words of Sharon Rossmark, founder of Women and Drones, “like any other robots, drones are flying robots and will continually evolve as technology and regulations safely integrate them into the national airspace.”
Attitudes toward drones have changed significantly over the years. Originally, according to Rossmark, “most people thought of drones as military machines or, in the hands of a consumer, as a toy to annoy neighbors by flying over their property.” Today, drones have been incorporated in numerous business and entertainment operations, gaining the label of “tool” rather than “danger” and soaring away from negative connotations.
In 2015, drones were used in a Kashmir Rose fashion show to deliver a Kashmir Rose gift. Also, “They were used on the runway of Italy to unveil a new high-end designer handbag. Drones have been used to deliver lifesaving human organs for the purpose of organ transplant. Just recently, drones were used to deliver library books to children during quarantine due to the coronavirus.” Along with this shift in perspective and new use of drones, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) industry have grown. As with many industries, a majority of participants were male. And that’s where W&D comes in.
The main objective of W&D is supporting kindergarten to career efforts in the UAS and UAV industries and specifically “increasing female participation.” Building on, “the organization is also focused on fueling the STEM and STEAM pipeline: encouraging more children, especially girls, to pursue an interest in STEM and aviation by learning about drones.” Going even further, the organization launched a new program earlier this year, the jobs board initiative, to add focus on providing career opportunities. Rossmark was also proud to share that W&D “expanded our Women To Watch global awards program to identify companies that have inclusive cultures where women can thrive.”
All of these values and initiatives combined are the driving force of change and empowerment at Women and Drones. On the topic of favorite initiatives, Rossmark answered “That would be like asking me to pick my favorite child but, if pressed, one of my favorites initiatives is our public drone awareness outreach and engagement program introducing drones. Whether the sessions are with kids or adults they are always amazed at the various applications of drones currently being used for business and for good.”
On the topic of the most important W&D milestones, Rossmark replied that “We are in our 4th year of Women To Watch a global awards program, recognizing women who are working to shape and disrupt the industry. And, the second one is our reach around the globe. We have connected with women in 17 countries.” To spark the imagination of kids, Rossmark and Wendy Erickson co-authored a book series about drone girls, one of the books being “Drone Girls and the Air Show Adventure”. Kashmir Rose Pandolfi, 7 year old drone builder and pilot, reviewed the books in this youtube video.
Writing a book, “that was a ton of fun... we [Rossmark and Erickson] each brought a different creative strength to the project and little did we know there would be such interest in the books.” For only a few years in existence, their reach is quite extensive. Rossmark recounts W&D’s journey since 2017 “it’s been a great adventure, particularly a learning adventure which has allowed me to grow while also helping others grow in this industry.”
Rossmark first started learning about drones 6 years ago. Her first experience with drones was watching a student presentation about a software they developed for using drones in agriculture. Rossmark was later inspired “by wanting to make a positive impact and to encourage women to engage in this sector of aviation. It started after attending and speaking at industry conferences. I noticed that there were very few women speakers and there was not an opportunity to connect with the few women that were attending the conferences.” Since then, she became increasingly engaged in the industry, so much so to encourage others to get involved as well.
During the interview, Rossmark shared her experience with starting W&D: “The first step was connecting with women who had been at the conferences and asking if I can capture their story to put on what was then a very basic website.” “The most challenging part has been that there’s just not enough hours in a day but that’s I guess true for most things. There’s so much to do and so much to learn and so many people to meet.” I managed it “by setting priorities, really identifying what I want to accomplish, and then just focusing on those priorities”.
Even more challenges arose when the pandemic hit, but W&D has adjusted by learning to work effectively and efficiently from home. “The good news is that there are no two days alike and since the corona virus has hit, the days seem to blur together. These days, not unlike anyone else running a business, are spent on online communication platforms. Which has been actually great because I’m spending quality time at home and still connecting with people all around the globe.”
The most important lesson Rossmark has learned is “how small the world really is. I’ve met some amazing people from around the globe that I know I would never have met if I had not started on this journey.”
Besides leading W&D, Rossmark is an FAA certified drone pilot. “The first time it took me about 20 hours of independent study. That was probably over the course of several weeks. Then, when I had to take the recurrent certification test, my study time was about half as much time, about 10 hours of a refresher course via independent study.
I would recommend others to get certified if they’re interested in flying in this industry for commercial purposes because you need a certification from the FAA to fly for commercial purposes. But, otherwise it’s a good knowledge base even if you are going to fly as a hobbyist.
The FAA is working on having a version of the knowledge test for hobbyists who want to fly for fun. Anytime you lift a drone off the ground in the outdoors you are flying in the national airspace. So there are numerous implications and regulations that people need to understand.”
For anyone who is interested in drones and has no idea where to begin Rossmark encourages you to “contact Women And Drones at our website womenanddrones.com. We can connect you with an industry mentor who can answer your questions, provide information about how to get started based on your specific areas of interest.”
A Sneak peak into the future of W&D: “we're getting offers to consider a number of opportunities that would build upon the work we're doing while expanding the scope. Either way, we will not stray from our goal of encouraging women to pursue opportunities in aviation and encouraging kids, especially girls, to develop an interest in STEM.”