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My College Experiment: Building a drone with financial aid money. (jacobjthomas.com)
37 points by mejakethomas on Jan 24, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

Pro tip: find a professor at your school that will let you do this for independent study credit.

You're likely to be able to get the funding through the school for your materials for the drone, you'll still be getting credit towards graduation, and you won't be doing anything that might be illegal with financial aid money.


I'll add that a professor who might be even remotely associated with the field may know people at other institutions or in industry. This could pay off down the line when you are looking for employment.

Also, if it's school sanctioned the IRS won't even blink at letting you write off costs on your taxes (or parent's taxes, if you're a dependent).

Cool! Thank you. I'll look into that!

Another thing to do is find out about clubs. Student organizations can often get money from the school's student council. If there's already an R/C aircraft club, you can join in with them, or start your own focused on the other aspects of drone/UAV tech that they don't cover but try to recruit from them.

Also, if you have an active IEEE or ACM branch at your school, they might have additional funding if you can get enough people and a faculty member or two on board. We provided funding to a couple projects, one was the SECON robotics competition, but I vaguely recall helping with some other project(s).

The guy cites this Forbes article as motivation: "Getting a better GPA ... is the focus. It ...doesn’t lead to working effectively with others. ... Traditional education is concerned with staying in context ... . Innovation is ... about crossing boundaries, and digging deeper into problems and their solutions from a variety of angles." It continues in that vein for many sentences more.

It's no news for anyone who has done any amount of research in science or engineering that research is a team effort, that one has to work across subject boundaries, and that it isn't at all risk-free. That's why nowadays undergraduates are expected to work in research labs from the sophomore year onwards. It is impossible to get into any serious PhD program without research experience.

I'm not sure why the blog author quotes a Forbes article full of non-truths, but we wish that he gets his project off the ground, so that he can see what a university is really like.

If you're doing almost anything related to software, it's a no brainer. The only real value to college in this case is meeting similar-minded people and having a piece of paper that "proves" you know a bunch of stuff. If you do well, it also proves you're a hard worker to some degree, so you're more attractive to companies based on that alone.

Overall, for software, the classic college experience is becoming a racket though, so I'm glad to see you're taking things into your own hands.

Other fields, I'm not too familiar with, but for example if you want to become a surgeon, you pretty much need college because you can't go around practicing on dead bodies on your own.

Forgive my ignorance but isn't financial aid for a very specific thing...as in not just choosing whatever the hell you want to do in your free time but explicitly for the education for which the application was made? Is this legal?

It's not illegal, but I am of the opinion it is utterly wrong, but that's another discussion for another day.

I have a feeling it could get some jail time. You are supposed to report dropping of classes to the financial aid office so your aid can be modified. Not doing this and also just keeping the money may be grounds to be hit with a fraud charge. Never the less, it isn't something I would want to risk.

I know of classmates who use financial aid for Spring Break tickets, vehicles, booze, and rent. I'm actually considering polling students at my school about it.

rent, vehicles, and living expenses are fine (so even booze to an extent) but Spring Break and this here seem far past the grey zone

4. “Learning is profoundly passive.”

In my experience, people who believe this have not been good students.

I can't help thinking the fact you're building a UAV is more unusual and interesting than the fact you're choosing to learn about it online.

Enjoyed this post. And my initial reaction to the headline before reading the article was: Duh, of course you can :) Autodidacts for life.

> 2. “Specialization is celebrated and rewarded.”

> Traditional education is concerned with staying in context and within the lines of subject content; Innovation is the exact opposite. It is all about crossing boundaries, and digging deeper into problems and their solutions from a variety of angles.

Eh. Here's what this misses:

You can't cross boundaries if you're not inside those boundaries to begin with. You can't usefully apply different perspectives if you don't have a solid intellectual investment into those perspectives. That grounding gives you the ability to generalize and abstract, and it's using those abstractions, girded by referents, that make those perspectives useful.

You can trumpet innovation all you like, but what's really going on here is that innovators tend to deeply understand multiple fields without being snobbish about cross-pollinating. That's all. Trad.Ed. only really fails here because it fails to encourage such behavior.

Which coursera course(s)?

Control of Mobile Robots - https://www.coursera.org/course/conrob

as opposed to letting someone who actually needs the financial aid money get access to it ? :/

My College Experiment: Building a drone with financial aid money

You should have talked to someone before saying this. IIRC, financial aid is to be used in very specific ways.

> financial aid is to be used in very specific ways.

From tales I've heard, those specific ways seem to be chiefly pizza and intoxicants.

So this seems quite the improvement. Besides, success often requires identifying the bendy rules and flexing them out of your way for a moment. Good experience.

Or going to Cancun "to learn Spanish" instead of taking a Spanish class ;).

The idea is not to rub it in; someone might just decide to take a look, and the student can get royally screwed.

Is there a reason you chose to drop a class and not just do it in your free time and take a hit on your GPA for the semester?

Yeah there actually is- Financial aid $$ for the drone stuff :) I figure if I'm going to get it, I might as well put it to good use.

Oh wow that's cool.

The income you don't use toward tuition, fees, books, etc, is taxable income, so make sure you report it to the IRS.

I don't know how financial aid for college works in the US but in the UK it is mainly to be used for living expenses. And in this context "living expenses" seems to include things like beer and xbox games.

What people use it for and what you can legally use it for without being taxed aren't necessarily the same thing.

Regarding the US, please see: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p970.pdf

I quote: "Expenses that do not qualify. Qualified education expenses do not include the cost of: • Room and board, • Travel, • Research, • Clerical help, or • Equipment and other expenses that are not required for enrollment in or attendance at an eligible educational institution"

Any expenses used toward a drone are clearly taxable even if you call it "Research". In practice, the IRS would never find out (unless you were audited). Unless, that is, you went and posted your idea on your blog and then posted that on HN.

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