Mountain Empire Community College to Offer Free Drone Operator/GIS Classes

BIG STONE GAP, Va. – Mountain Empire Community College will offer free online courses in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and geographic information systems (GIS) during its Summer 2020 semester.

MECC, in partnership with Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development and its Community Development Block Grant program designed to bolster UAS training in Southwest Virginia, is offering full tuition assistance for its UMS 107 and GIS 210 courses during its summer semester. Students have the option to enroll in either class or both classes, and the classes will be delivered entirely online in keeping with mandated COVID-19 safety measures.  

Online Drone 2020

The UMS 107 course, titled “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Remote Pilot Ground School,” trains students in a variety of drone-related topics including FAA regulations, optimizing performance and maintenance. The course also prepares students for the FAA’s Remote Pilot Certificate, which permits drone operators to use their skills for commercial purposes. Since MECC began its UAS program in 2015, 94 percent of students who took the FAA examination received a passing score on their first attempt. Those interested in enrolling in UMS 107 can visit or contact Instructor Fred Coeburn at  

Online GIS 2020

GIS 210, titled “Understanding Geographic Data,” trains students on how to obtain and survey aerial data, and they will also become familiar with modern software tools like ESRI ArcMap (used to view and analyze geospatial data) and Google Earth. As MECC GIS Instructor Jake Gilly notes, the offering of these two courses in tandem at no cost is a benefit to MECC’s service region. “Our quickly changing world is making it more imperative that we know our surroundings and the information that defines them,” Gilly says. “Students who receive training simultaneously in drone operations and GIS will be able to keep pace with the latest technology out there.” Those interested in enrolling in GIS 210 can contact Gilly at       

Potential students wishing to enroll in either course can visit and are advised to do so by June 1. For eligibility requirements regarding tuition assistance, please contact Grant Coordinator Ashvin Raj at 276-523-2400 (ext.261) or at