Ulster BOCES Graduate's Career Takes to the Skies

Ulster BOCES Graduate's Career Takes to the Skies

Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Stephen Sawyer, enrolling in the Career & Technical Center’s Aviation program placed him on an unexpected career path—as a New York State (NYS) Trooper assigned to the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Detail—an occupation that is continuing to grow.

Stephen learned about the program during a high school visitation day to the Career & Technical Center. The annual event, which brings students together from eight Ulster County Districts, immediately put the Aviation program on his radar and made him work harder to get into the program. “I have family in the Bahamas and we were always flying there from New York and I would see the pilots and think, ‘That is cool,’” the Ellenville graduate says.

Stephen says he was more motivated at Ulster BOCES than he was at his home school to tackle his academic studies. “Ulster BOCES core classes of math, science, and English made you want to work harder,” reflects Stephen, adding that the way the topics were integrated into his course of study made those subjects more relatable to his personal and professional interests.

The 2011 graduate admits the course was demanding. “There is a lot of knowledge thrown at you in those two hours, in addition to the flight instruction at the Kingston-Ulster Airport.” Despite the rigorous course work, Stephen says his confidence and grades were soaring.

From learning meteorology, instrumentation, airplane systems, flight environment, aircraft performance, and the principles of flight, Stephen felt secure in all aspects of the program and was ready when it was time for him to make his first solo flight. He recalls it began with a few “go-arounds” with the airport’s flight instructor. He also learned another important industry lesson. “After we went up about 3,000 feet, he pushed the power back to idle and we just glided,” Stephen explains. “He was showing me that the throttle doesn’t have to be in [for the plane] to stay in flight.”   

After graduation, Stephen enrolled at SUNY Ulster to earn a degree in Fire Protection Technology. To support himself while he was in college, he took a job as a dispatcher for the Village of Ellenville Police Department. In 2012, the police chief offered him the opportunity to attend the Ulster County Police Academy. Then in 2013, Stephen took and passed the NYS entry exam to become a State Trooper. Subsequently he took the New York Drone Pilot Training, FAA Part 107 test, and then proceeded to take his NYS Unmanned Aircraft System Pilot Training.

Today, Stephen is assigned to the State Police Kingston Barracks. Thanks to earning his pilot’s license at Ulster BOCES, Stephen says about 90 percent of the training to become a certified drone operator was waived. Today, Stephen is one of a select –but growing– faction of state police who are using the Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Unmanned Aircraft Pilot technology has a variety of uses for first responders to make their jobs safe and more effective, including traffic crashes, crime scene investigations, natural disasters, search and rescue missions, monitoring traffic at large events, and investigating active shooter situations. Stephen even visits local school districts showing aspiring first responders how drones are another tactical tool that police can use.

According to the University of San Diego, drone technology is helping police to ensure public safety, and utilizing drones is currently listed as one of the top five trends in law enforcement. Ulster BOCES Aviation instructor Alfred Bertie invited Stephen to come and speak to his current class about the many uses of drones in law enforcement. “The training we provide is comprehensive. The knowledge we provide applies to both the aviation and drone curriculum, and students have the opportunity to pursue a career as either a pilot or a drone operator,” says Bertie, adding, “It was fortunate Stephen had this training. It is valuable in ways you don’t anticipate.”

 Stephen Sawyer

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