Sonoran Desert Institute’s School of Unmanned Technology Frequently Asked Questions, With Dean John Minor

  • Joey Upper


We understand that with a brand-new school come quite a few questions. 

Fortunately, SDI’s Dean of the School of Unmanned Technology is here to help. 

John Minor, Dean of the School of Unmanned Technology at Sonoran Desert Institute, has been a part of the aerospace industry for 47 years. He served in the Air Force for 28 years and worked for DoD contractors for ten. He spent six years as the provost in a school teaching unmanned technology. He holds a masters in electrical engineering and in flight test engineering, and is a former technical director and master instructor for the USAF Test Pilot school. 

John Minor, Managing Director/Dean of the School of Unmanned Technology

He has been involved in the development, test, and evaluation of unmanned and autonomous aerial systems since 1986. His current focus is on training the future workforce for the plethora of commercial and public safety uses for UAVs in the civilian world.

As part of that focus, Minor took some time to help answer some of the frequently-asked questions associated with a new school of this nature.

What is SDI’s School of Unmanned Technology? 

SDI’s School of Unmanned Technology is dedicated to providing students with comprehensive online education and training to prepare them for careers in the emerging industries using unmanned and autonomous systems. Our focus is on autonomous and unmanned aerial systems (UASs), commonly called drones by the media and the public.

How long has the school’s launch been planned for? 

We have been targeting our launch to coincide with the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) January 5 – 8 in Las Vegas, NV for about six months, although our educational program has been under development for about a year. I am pleased to be able to say that on December 23rd we received confirmation from the Distance Education Accreditation Commission (DEAC), that our new program was approved for accreditation.

Will this interrupt SDI’s School of Firearms Technology? 

No – Not at all. The School of Firearms Technology will continue to offer the same programs and excellent support to students they have come to be known for. In addition, the School of Firearms Technology will continue to grow, improve, and add new offerings based on industry workforce needs.

What certificate is new on offer? 

We are pleased to offer the Certificate in Unmanned Technology – Aerial Systems. Again, Unmanned Aerial Systems are more commonly called drones by the news media and the public, but the FAA has designated them as UAS in the Federal Code of Regulations. The terms can be used almost interchangeably. 

The Certificate consists of four 4-credit hour courses that are each 8 weeks in length. The program can be completed in as little as 16 weeks.  Working individuals may find they need 32 weeks to complete the program.  The program has two mandatory or prerequisite courses students must take first.  Then a student can choose two elective courses from a current selection of four different electives.  See below:

Upon successful completion of this certificate program, students will be prepared to:

  • Describe the roles, duties, responsibilities, fundamental skills, and knowledge required in various engineering technology careers in the modern industry.
  • Understand and be able to use basic arithmetic, fractions, decimals, ratio and proportion, algebra, plane geometry, right angle trigonometry, and basic statistics to solve simple problems
  • Demonstrate technical knowledge of unmanned aircraft systems and their operational uses.
  • Pursue entry level employment focused in one or more technical areas of specialization within the unmanned aircraft systems industry.
  • Exemplify high standards of ethical and professional behavior in the UAS industry including diversity and equality.
  • Become an advocate for the UAS industry and be an ambassador for the safe, legal, ethical, and responsible use of drones.

What types of careers will students be prepared for?

Some of the many areas within the Unmanned and Autonomous Aircraft Industry where a student may apply the knowledge gained from the Certificate in Unmanned Technology at the entry-level include:

  • Project Manager
  • UAS Assistant Program Manager 
  • Systems Engineering Management Apprentice
  • UAS Aviation Management Apprentice
  • UAS Technician
  • UAS Technologist
  • And many others

Can you expand on the why SDI chose to build this certificate program at this time?

Much of the public’s knowledge about drones from comes from the media coverage of military drones used in places Afghanistan and Iraq – like the Predator, Reaper, and the Global Hawk. The armed services have used drones as a force multiplier to help combat the war on terror by keeping pilots and ground troops safe.  But, while the media has focused on military operations, there has been a commercial and public service drone revolution going on during the last few years which is creating many opportunities for entrepreneurs and others looking for an exciting future in high-tech.  Did you know that public service organizations are one of the biggest users of commercial drones? Law enforcement and fire departments across the nation have adopted drones to make their operations safer, more efficient, and even to save lives. They are used extensively in search and rescue operations and to document the aftermath of natural disasters like wildfire, hurricanes, or tornados. There is a huge demand for skilled workers who are knowledgeable in UAS technology and technology management. Our 100% online certificate program will prepare students to enter the drone revolution workforce and have successful careers. They can learn principles, techniques and skills that will prepare them to be successful in the unmanned and autonomous systems industry.

What can prospective students do now if they’re interested? 

They should call 800-336-8939 and talk to an SDI admissions representative or email to get connected with one of our enrollment and admissions advisors!

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