GRAD SPEAK: Soaring Through Sunny Skies with Tim Burke

  • Drew Poplin

There are a variety of different goals one might have when getting an education. These can span from wanting to get foundational knowledge in a particular field to making connections and even gaining memorable social experiences.

For Tim Burke, it’s not as simple as identifying one singular reason why he attended Sonoran Desert Institute (SDI). To understand that, you need to know a little more about the man himself.

In Service, Around the World

While Burke currently calls Stafford, VA, his home, he has spent much of his life living here, there, and everywhere. This is in large part due to his time spent serving his country in the military. Growing up, he was always fascinated by the Army commercials he would see — so much so that once he started college, he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

As he describes it, “When I went to college, I joined an Army Reserve unit and did ROTC. I had fully intended on simply being in the Army Reserve for a 6-year tour. But then I got commissioned, graduated, and was offered to do 3 years of active duty instead of 6 years in the Army Reserve.”

He continues, “I thought to myself, ‘I’ll just do 3 years of active duty,’ and turned around one day to see that I had done about 18 to 19 years. I just got busy. Just got caught up in it and lost track of time. That 3 years turned into 19 years, which eventually turned into a little over 25 years.”

Burke could be forgiven for losing track of time given how busy he must have been. After all, he spent half of his service working in field artillery units and the most recent half as an institutional comptroller, with two tours working in the Pentagon. By the end of his time in the Army, he had risen to the rank of Colonel.

After 25 years, Burke finally decided to retire. So the question was, “Now what?”

As a devoted family man with a special needs son, being a parent became a full-time job. Still, given the temporary status of his post-9/11 GI Bill, Burke would search for ways he could further his education, ultimately leading him to SDI.

Finding SDI

After receiving quality education at several universities, Burke still was searching for more ways he could utilize his GI Bill. Not knowing exactly what he was looking for, he turned to the internet for help. As Burke explains, “As I started thinking more about my GI Bill eligibility expiring and started doing some internet searches, I did this one search, ‘Cool (or neat) things you can do with your post-9/11 GI Bill.’”

That Google search led Burke to a Reddit forum talking about that exact topic. There, a user posted about how through SDI, he was able to build an M1911. That sounded right up the former Army man’s alley.

Not knowing much about the school, he started his research on the SDI website. Ultimately, Burke concluded that pursuing a degree or certificate in Firearms Technology was not the best decision for him. However, something else did catch his eye.

According to Burke, “As I continued to look at the website, I saw this introductory course in unmanned technology and I thought, ‘Now, there’s something I can do with its lab requirements and with its setup.’ And so I read more and got even more interested in that than I was in the firearms technology programs. And so, early last calendar year, I was able to sign up for this certificate program.”

Learning Lots at SDI

As I mentioned before, this wouldn’t be Burke’s first dive into higher education. However, I might have been understating things a bit.

Not only has he obtained his undergraduate degree from Northeastern Oklahoma State University, but he also has an MBA from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.

So how does SDI measure up to two master’s programs? Naturally, you’re going to learn more in an MBA program than in an associate or certificate program, but that’s not the question you should be asking. As Burke puts it, “The question ought to be ‘Administratively, how did it run?’ They were similar, which is the right answer. Yes, the MBA projects/writing assignments and War College research papers were significantly longer than the SDI papers, as they should be. It’s a master’s level versus undergrad. But I wanted to learn about UAVs and I definitely did. I was happy with the online presentation and methodologies. As I said, it [SDI] was efficient and effective.”

In addition to SDI’s administrative efficiency, Burke also commends how SDI’s instruction prepared him for the FAA Part 107 Exam. According to him, “If you want to be employed by, say, a real estate company to do stills and videos of real estate or if you want to do inspections of towers and things like that for pay, you have to have your license. If you want to do anything beyond a hobbyist level, even. Even if you are going to use a UAV to do something for a philanthropic organization for no pay, you have to have a license. And to get your license, you have to pass the exam.”

He continues, “And to pass the exam is no snap of the fingers. That’s some work and SDI got me prepared for it. Now I’m a card-carrying remote pilot of small unmanned aircraft systems issued by the Department of Transportation/FAA and SDI got me ready for that.”

What’s Next for Tim?

Having graduated from SDI’s Certificate in Unmanned Technology–Aerial Systems program in 2023, Burke quickly made plans to continue his education. With his GI Bill expiring, he set his sights on graduating from the University of Maryland Global Campus with a certificate in computer networking.

As I mentioned in the beginning, individuals go to school for a variety of reasons. For Burke, the opportunity to cultivate knowledge and acquire new skills was the main motivator. And while inclement weather and an older smartphone have the licensed pilot grounded for the time being, he foresees sunnier skies for flying ahead.

Burke believes that if he was looking for drone work, SDI has prepared him well, saying, “I don’t bring you a story of how I got a job out of my certificate from SDI. I absolutely don’t have that story. I know I could get a job [in Unmanned Aerial Systems]. Of course, I know I would need more schooling than what I have to continue to do even better for DOD. But I know I’ve gotten a good enough start that I could get my foot in the door and get employed. I know that. I believe it.”

For now, the educated drone hobbyist enjoys his time with his family and flying his Tello solely for the love of the flight. And while the horizon isn’t always clear, we’re wishing Tim Burke smooth skies from here on out.

Get Your Education at SDI

Tim Burke had this to say about the education he received at SDI, “The Certificate in Unmanned Technology – Aerial Systems was an excellent, well-rounded course of study in introductory drone history, engineering technology, testing, and operations. The faculty-led videos and course materials/practice exams were all instrumental in preparing me for the Airman Knowledge Test and other processing requirements through the FAA for the license, such as setting up necessary accounts, locating a testing center, and application procedures/requirements.”

If you’re interested in building your foundation in drones, then look no further than SDI! Click the link here to find out more about our School of Unmanned Technology.

To read more stories like Tim’s, click here.

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