Since becoming a remote pilot, Dr. Lori Paluti’s career in health education has taken a new turn
Tell us about yourself and your background
I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA, and throughout my childhood my goal was to become a medical doctor. After completing two years of pre-med, my career goal changed and I chose to focus on earning a degree in Health and Physical Education from the University of Pittsburgh.
After graduation, I accepted a part-time fitness instructor’s position within the community education division at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) and taught physical fitness classes while I worked on my career goals.
Despite all the effort in finding the perfect teaching position, the opportunities in Health and Physical Education were discouraging so I decided to go the entrepreneurial route and start my own business called Corporate Health and Fitness Services. With just a handful of clients under my belt I developed a professional image, printed some business cards and used online marketing and referrals to sell my in-home personal training sessions and wellness programs to corporate clientele.
The work was rewarding and I loved seeing my clients overcome challenges as they strived for better health and well-being.
However, having a business was tough, I was on the road a lot and had to make many sacrifices to remain competitive. As the business grew, I was serving more clients and working a 7-day work week to keep up with the demands. Nothing seemed to stop me and I loved the fast pace that my business thrive upon. After spending 10 years in this business, I made a painful decision to exit the corporate world and focus more on becoming an academic professional.
This next step for me was exciting and I was eager to bring all the elements of hard work, creativity and motivation back to the Community College of Allegheny County in a new role as a part-time health and wellness coordinator and instructor.
Given my passion for health and fitness, my role allowed me to focus on teaching students and coordinating programs that promoted healthier lifestyles.
After a few years in this job position, I was gaining an interest in the STEM fields and wanted to expand my career options for advancement. In order to make this process happen, I enrolled in a Master’s program at Jones International University and earned my degree in e-Learning and Technology. At the end of the program I continued on to earn my Doctorate of Business Administration degree also at Jones International.
After earning my doctorate, the tech sector was starting to grow more and this lead to more involvement with makerspaces, engineering fairs and community events that were focused on getting students interested in the STEM fields.
How did you get started in the drone industry?
Getting started in the drone industry began as a hobby. In 2014 I went into a local hobby store and found a tiny drone on the counter. The salesman was flying it around the store and I was hooked on learning more about these tiny flying robots.
With no experience in aviation, I spent a lot of time perfecting my flying skills and learning about airspace, weather, FAA rules and the mechanics of drones. After gaining some confidence in my ability to pursue this new goal I decided to use the summer of 2016 to prepare for the commercial drone examination and to set things in motion for a new career as a drone pilot.
After successfully earning my remote pilots certification in October 2016, and obtaining a certificate of airspace authorization, I received approval from my academic dean to develop a course for unmanned aircraft systems and to oversee an outdoor drone flight area.
On March 17, 2017, I set my own personal record by becoming the first woman to pilot a drone on campus. Since then, we have been making positive steps towards making drones a vital part of our Aviation and STEM related programs.
Tell us about your organization and your role there
I work for the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, PA as an adjunct instructor and coordinator. CCAC is one of the largest community colleges in Pennsylvania and is a learning-centered environment that offers more than 160 programs that lead to great careers and four-year colleges. CCAC has four campuses, four neighborhood centers and flexible schedules including online courses. My role within at the South Campus in West Mifflin, PA is Health and Wellness coordinator and I focus on helping students and employees adopt healthier lifestyles through good nutrition, exercise and stress management.
Over the past three years I have been rebranding my career and decided to focus more on drone education and technology. As I redefine my goals, the focus has been on finding resources to maintain an active presence in the drone community. While Pittsburgh has seen a boost in interest in drone tech, there is still plenty of work to be done to educate people about how drones will be used as a valuable part of technology.
What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?
Being in the UAV industry has many advantages due to the fact that it’s a new form of technology and there is so much potential for growth and development. I think everyone is trying to find a niche of profitability and growth within the industry to keep it thriving. This situation inspires me to want to expand into new venues and take on the necessary challenges to move the drone industry further.
What’s your favorite type of project and why?
After being in the business world for many years, planning projects came naturally, but what made the biggest difference when I entered drone tech was that I could be more creative and I didn’t need to sit behind a desk all day to do that. Agriculture and wildlife has always been an interest, and my first commercial project allowed me to use my talents to conduct an aerial inspection of agricultural land. As I pursue more contracts, my goal is to use drone tech to preserve endangered species, locate missing animals and to assist non-profit organizations with humanitarian efforts.
Do you have a success story you would like to share?
I always believed that success comes when you least expect it. Sometimes we doubt ourselves so much that we forget to focus on the things that we have achieved. If you measure success in terms of ounces and pounds, every ounce of success leads to pounds of it, which is why we should never doubt the small achievements that we have made. With no background in aviation, no budget and a limited amount of resources, stepping into the drone industry was something that was risky and I wasn’t sure where to find help to make things happen. After becoming a commercial drone pilot, landing my first contract within agriculture was the first real success that I could proudly share among my fellow drone pilots.
Rather than being boastful about my accomplishment, I used my experience to build good relationships with others who are thinking about becoming commercial drone pilots.
What excites you most about the potential for women in the industry?
Women have been underrepresented in the tech industry for many years, so I think it’s important for us to step up and claim our space in the drone communities. Advocacy is a must, along with educating ourselves on the best practices that are occurring in different markets. Rather than focusing on our weaknesses, our goal should be to get as much exposure as possible for the hard work we do.
Whenever I am representing drone tech in the community I always reach out to the younger girls and hope they see me as someone who is paving the way for their future. I really want to see them get excited about careers in aviation, engineering, business or technology and utilize the resources that are out there. As current leaders, our job is to make sure we represent the industry in a positive way and showcase how drones have created an impact in every career field. Everything from participating in career days to presenting to local community groups about drone tech makes an impact.
What You’ve Learned:
What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry?
Since entering the drone industry, many new doors have been opened for me and that has made an impact on my future goals. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support that I received from other industries and cannot imagine pursing drone tech further without their support. From the academic level, my campus president and academic dean have been supportive in allowing me to extend my role and have encouraged me to remain vigilant to my new calling. Whenever my patience and energy are at their maximum I think of the opportunities that lie ahead and the others who are fighting just as hard to make this industry even bigger yet.
What have you learned you wish you had known when you got started?
Technology moves in cycles and is highly demanding of your time and energy. While I knew what it took to maintain a business, technology was something that moved at a much faster pace and demanded continuous innovation. If I had to re-enter this field again, I would connect with a support team first to gain valuable feedback. Listening to other professionals is highly important and can help you to avoid some mistakes that cost you time and resources.
Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?
For women entering drone tech for the first time, first, I would encourage them to have a plan and get their product out there as soon as possible. I think we waste too much time perfecting how we would like something to look rather than getting our product out there for customers to see. The products we offer are for our customers and should be perfected on feedback we receive from them. Secondly, I would encourage women to build a team that is willing to work hard and doesn’t let imperfection get in the way of their success. If someone doesn’t feel they are impacting the final outcome the entire product can fail. Communicate with your team positively, offer constructive criticism when needed and most importantly—have fun while putting it all together!
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