In August of 2016, twenty-one students from a variety of different disciplines met in a classroom at JMU and were asked one question: how can UAVs be used to tackle complicated humanitarian and environmental issues? The students listened to several project pitches that explained how drones could be used to set up telecommunication networks after natural disasters, detail the effects of acid rain on ancient walls in Colombia, and track the effects of climate change on bees. Then, Dr. Ken Rutherford, Director of the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery, came up to present his project. Dr. Rutherford began his presentation with one word, “landmines,” and immediately the ears of six students in the class perked up.
These six students were Rehan Ahmed, Marshall Grimard, Eric Lim, Dan McHugh, Bailey Swayne, and Dalton Wagner. Together, they make up the Landmines Team of the JMU drones project and they’re working on creating UAVs that can detect and detonate dormant landmines. Through collaboration and innovative thinking, these students are going to make it safe to walk again for millions of people around the world.
Rehan Ahmed, Senior, Writing Rhetoric and Technical Communication
Before our group’s effort came into full effect, I knew given my writing expertise, I would help create and write the narrative and background to our demining endeavors. Since then with the help of Dan McHugh and Dalton Wagner I have created, edited, and published blog posts detailing our project. I have worked in group projects before but loathed them simply because I ended up doing most, if not all, of the work. This group is different. There is no one task burdened to a sole individual. Everything is a group effort driven by the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the course. From the creation of the drones, to understanding the technical aspects of demining, and working together to convey our message, we all have say in what works and what doesn’t. I have learned through interdisciplinary teamwork that diversity in thought and experience create a more open atmosphere in which everyone is learning something from someone else. Likewise, through actual collaboration I have learned that group projects can be successful if everyone is willing to do their share of the work. While we do have great in-group chemistry, as we approach the final presentation date, we will all have to ensure we are on top of things by communicating both in-person and virtually, on a more consistent, goal-oriented basis.
Coming into this course, I really wanted to make sure that I was placed onto one of the Landmine groups as it was a project with resonated with me. Knowing that landmines are a scourge for many nations around the world following the numerous wars and conflicts throughout the 1900s, I wanted to lend my skills and abilities to helping solve this issue that impacts many people on a daily basis. Using technology to solve problems has always been one of my passions, and having some coding ability and a general tech background, placed on top of my ability to develop grasp on abstract ideas to help implement them into our drone, allowed me to be a productive team member. While not as technically skilled as Bailey, or having the writing ability of Dan or Rehan, I found a niche in being able to support my team with my ability to be flexible and operate as a team player, and by helping with the technical side of things, especially in the realm of creating our theory of how we were to use our drones, and the best course to implement and utilize our resources. I still have had to greatly challenge myself with learning more about drones, and their fine workings, and using sensors which I have had no previous familiarity working with or coding for has really allowed my challenges to become excellent learning opportunities. Having an excellent group to work with helps tremendously, as since we all pull our weight and communicate, we are able to tackle this great challenge laid before us, and overcome our obstacles through working together and maintaining our timeline. I look forward to seeing where our project leads into the future, and the possibilities which its completion could present to the world, and all those who live under the threat of being maimed or killed by landmines.
Eric Lim, Junior, Intelligence Analysis
During the night that we selected our projects, I knew that I had to get on the Landmines Team. People always talk about finding their “calling” but they never talk about the very real shivers of drive and purpose that course through your spine when you find out that there is something real work out there for you. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be doing during the semester, but being on the Landmines Team was enough for me. Now that we’re in the thick of our project, the idea that we’re working on saving civilian lives has rooted itself in my mind and, I’m sure, the minds of my teammates. My teammates each bring their own strengths and perspectives to our project, and I’ve learned that someone’s discipline does not dictate their thoughts or contributions. Though I’m registered for the technical side of the course, I find myself communicating and articulating more often than coding and wiring. I feel more like a glue that keeps up the team’s common understanding rather than a drones and landmines subject matter expert, which has taught me a lot about group engagement. Everyone on our team has to be together and giving it their all for our plans to work out, especially with stakes this high. Looking forward, I know that we have the passion and energy, we just need to direct it towards sticking to our timeline and keeping the end in sight.
Dan McHugh, Senior, Communications
When I was placed on the Landmines Team for the JMU drones project, I knew I had a big challenge ahead of me. Our group would be building a drone that had the potential to save lives, so there was a lot at stake. As a communications major, I expected to just be producing writing and marketing content for the project, but I could have never anticipated how much I would actually be involved in the technical aspects of the drones. I’ve really been forced to challenge myself to learn more about UAVs and the sensors being used for our project so that I can produce better writing content. I’m not exactly a science or technology person, so this was definitely difficult for me. I found the best way to overcome this problem was to collaborate with my other group members and immerse myself in the drone building process. Looking ahead, the biggest thing our group needs to focus on is communication. The more we communicate, the better our project will be. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the Landmines Team.
Bailey Swayne, Junior, Computer Science
When I was placed on the Landmines Team for the drones project, I knew that I would be one of the few people that had previous experience with Drones, and would have a big challenge ahead because of my knowledge; also because we would be working on a drone that could potentially save lives. As a Computer Science major with a robotics minor I had to take the brunt of the technical side of the project and design the drone to be able to detect the landmine and to detonate the landmine and the different challenges that come along with this. Interdisciplinary work on this team has taught me that people who are non-technical majors are quite capable in learning very technical aspects in over the course of a few weeks, and I did not have to change the way that I explained technical aspects of the project much. This project has showed me that having the most experience on the topic makes you the unofficial team leader and then having to learn to rise to that challenge even if you aren’t ready for it.
Joining this group, I knew our task could have very real, life-saving implications for many innocent civilians across the globe. I envisioned that my role would be more of a middle man within our group between the writing and technical members. But, as the semester has gone on, I have aligned more with the communication experts rather than the technical members. I have helped week to week in writing and reviewing the blogs in addition to writing the outlines for our blog posts. I am also in charge of my group’s Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook page. This project has really changed my perception on how individuals from different disciplines work together. Without one member of our group, our project would not be in the same place it is with them. For example, the writing majors would not be able to produce the product that we have currently without the technical side and vice versa. It truly takes all of us doing our roles for our group to function and produce a successful product. This project has taught me that at some point, everybody within the group is going to have to take a lead at some time in order to meet tasks. I have learned that it is okay to speak up and be a leader when we veer off task. It taught me that you must respect every individual and that every idea should be heard and thought about thoroughly because in order to dream big, you must start with a seemingly crazy idea. We, as a group, need to stay on task and reach our goals each week that we proposed on our timeline. We must continue to put our focus on both the documentation of our work as well as our actual physical product being produced.