VU Jan 2023 Fac Staff Inst 9 scaled
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Voorhees University receives funding to develop drone pilots during spring faculty/staff institute

Denmark, S.C. – Voorhees University has received $25,000 in scholarship funding from AINautics to train and certify 30 students to be drone pilots and create a drone operational team at the university. The check was presented during the annual spring faculty and staff institute Jan. 4.

The partnership, announced by Damara Hightower Mitchell, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Voorhees, will prepare students to enter an industry with starting salaries of more than $50,000.

“We are happy to partner with Voorhees. We had initially planned to provide support for 25 scholars, but we are now prepared to support 30 scholars,” said Christopher Williams, director of partnership development for AINautics. “We will also interview and hire some scholars who receive drone pilot certifications.”

“We look forward to our partnership with AINautics and preparing our students for a career increasing in demand,” said Voorhees University President Ronnie Hopkins.

Williams indicated that while students are the priority for the partnership, community residents and others can participate in the training and certification program.

AINautics provides innovative drone-based solutions to support the needs of its clients. The company serves clients in a number of areas, including agricultural services, surveying and mapping. More information about AINautics is available at

During the faculty and staff institute, Hopkins discussed the 2022-2027 strategic plan, the master plan and successes in 2022.

Hopkins said the university’s mission is the cornerstone of the strategic plan. “Voorhees University is a private historically black liberal arts institution affiliated with the Episcopal church, whose mission is to produce highly qualified graduates who coalesce intellect and faith in pursuit of life-long learning, healthy living, the betterment of society, and an abiding faith in God,” he said.

He encouraged employees to familiarize themselves with the plan and understand their roles in achieving its goals. He also shared the strategic priorities: academic excellence and student success, talent acquisition, leverage and leadership, accountability and stability and sustainability. 

Hopkins said that with the approval of the university as a graduate degree-granting institution by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the next goal is for Voorhees to become a level five institution offering doctoral degrees. He said a plan would be submitted to SACSCOC by the end of 2023.

Hopkins encouraged deans and faculty to become more involved in recruitment as his goal is to grow enrollment to 800 students by fall 2027. 

Discussing the university’s master plan, capital improvements and successes rounded out the president’s presentation.

“We will focus on deferred maintenance, particularly on HVAC issues throughout the campus. We also will look at using some of the university’s 378 acres for organic and solar farming and maximizing renewable energy,” he said.

“Our master plan includes the construction of a campus and community center, which will contain student affairs and student government association offices along with a skating rink, a movie theater (doubling as an auditorium), bowling lanes, business incubator spaces, a barber shop, hair and nail studios, a food court, a campus store, a post office, a university pantry, a ballroom and a veterans resource center,” he said.

He also mentioned constructing new academic facilities, residence halls and living and learning centers that meet the needs and expectations of 21st-century students.

Other capital improvement projects include construction of a university-owned hotel, restoration of six university houses and development of a university community garden and greenhouse.

Hopkins was excited to share the university’s successes, which included the celebration of its 125th anniversary, his inauguration, the name change from Voorhees College to Voorhees University and impressive Best College rankings by U.S. News and World Report.

Employees also heard from an organizational development and customer service professional, Kim Pruitt. A team of mental health professionals, LaRonda Johnson and Michael Gore, provided tips on recognizing mental health issues and how to seek help for those who need it.

VU Jan 2023 Fac Staff Inst 9

About Voorhees University

Voorhees University, founded by Elizabeth Evelyn Wright in 1897, is a private, coeducational institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church and the United Negro College Fund. The university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Its mission is to produce highly qualified graduates who coalesce intellect and faith in pursuit of life-long learning, healthy living, the betterment of society, and an abiding faith in God. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Voorhees as a #1 best value, #3 in social mobility and #33 among regional colleges in the south in 2022-2023; and #26 among Historically Black Colleges and Universities, nationally. Additional information about Voorhees University can be found at


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