Program Spotlight: Civil Engineering Tech

Instructor Alan Hancock delivers drone technology to his students

Alan Hancock, an instructor in the Civil Engineering Technology program at Dakota County Technical College, recently introduced drone technology to the students in his program. Alan purchased a DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone quadcopter as a new tool in a curriculum that covers CAD, civil drafting, land surveying, hydrology, materials testing, project management and much, much more.

The Mavic 2 Pro is a superb drone and features 31-minute maximum flight time, omnidirectional obstacle sensing, 8 kilometer 1080p video transmission and a Hasselblad camera, the latter manufactured by the world-renowned Swedish camera company. The Mavic 2 Pro’s camera takes 20-megapixel aerial shots in state-of-the-science color detail.

“I’m planning on getting Pix4D photogrammetry software for our drone,” Alan said. “My students will use that software for drone mapping.”

According to Wikipedia, photogrammetry is the “art, science and technology of obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the process of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images and patterns of electromagnetic radiant imagery and other phenomena.”

DCTC campus northern view: photo taken by DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone quadcopter

DCTC campus northern view: Photo taken by DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone quadcopter

Alan Hancock  Q & A

How will your CET students explore drone technology in their coursework?
The students will use the drone in making aerial pictures to use in drafting as well as creating topographic maps to make elevation contours. The drone will allow faster collection of data to be used for designing civil projects.

How is drone technology used on civil engineering projects?
In addition to the functions mentioned above, drones are used to inspect bridges for safety; they can be used to survey rough and dangerous terrain such as a rock slide or gravel pit. Drones can be used to inspect large, underground drainage systems.

What is the future for drones in the civil engineering field?
This is cutting-edge technology, and very few firms are using drones right now. Look for more widespread use in the near future. Likely, the technology will only get faster and more accurate as time goes on.

What do drone operators need to know for safe and legal operation?
For all drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds, the operator needs to observe the Federal Aviation Administration’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107) and must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. This certificate demonstrates that you understand the regulations, operating requirements and procedures for safely flying drones.

An unlicensed person can fly if a licensed pilot is within arm’s reach. The flight ceiling is less than 400 feet above ground. Operators must keep direct eye contact with the drones at all times. They cannot fly over a stadium or in airport airspace unless they get clearance. Pilots cannot fly drones over crowds. Drones should not be used in any unethical way.

How does civil engineering approach new technologies?
Civil has always led the industries in technology. They always will. Most technologies are developed for the military, but civil quickly follows. Civil was the first to use electronic measurement, GPS, computer aided drafting (CAD) and now drones.

Civil Engineering Technicians

Use principles of civil engineering to plan and design construction projects.

This career pays above the statewide median of $20.07/hour


Median: $28.51/hour
High: $32.54/hour

Seven-county Twin Cities metro

Median: $28.94/hour
High: $34.53/hour


This career is seeing high growth compared to other careers. Growth rate is 9.6 percent, or above the statewide average. There will be a need for about 2,362 new Civil Engineering Technicians to meet market demand between 2016–2026. This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.

Minnesota State CAREERwise Education

More about Alan Hancock…

Alan Hancock

Alan Hancock

Alan Hancock began teaching in the Civil Engineering Technology program at DCTC in 2011. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in the civil engineering field working in the following areas:

  • Survey crew, including boundary, topographic and construction staking
  • Design using AutoCAD from version R12 to Civil 3D
  • Site inspection
  • Right of way
  • Permitting
  • Wetland delineation
  • Bridge inspection
  • Federal, state, county, city and township projects
  • Road research projects
  • Eminent domain cases
  • County ditch projects (agricultural drainage)
  • Sanitary sewer, water and storm sewer projects
  • Project memorandums

Alan received his A.A.S. in Civil Engineering Technology from St. Cloud Technical College. He earned his Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Land Surveying from St. Cloud State University. He has extensive and varied experience in civil engineering technology and land surveying. Alan is a veteran who served in the U.S. Army Reserve and Minnesota Army National Guard.

Drone footage taken by CET Instructor Alan Hancock

Student perspective: Gian Pambuena

Gian Pambuena

Originally from Dumaguete, Philippines, Gian Pambuena, 20, is a sophomore at DCTC majoring in Civil Engineering Technology. Gian serves in the U.S. Army Reserve and has plans to transfer to the U of M Twin Cities or the University of St. Thomas to earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He is a recipient of a $1,500 D3M Endowed Scholarship.

How do you see drone technology influencing the future of civil engineering?
Drone technology is revolutionizing the civil engineering world. Drones are fast and efficient at capturing and storing high-definition 3D images that can be used for design and monitoring.

You can easily access a building site and study the terrain before construction begins along with a plethora of other things thanks to the capabilities of the drone and its software.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone quadcopter demo gallery

View more photos by visiting:

CET Drone Demo on DCTC Flickr

Drone aerial perspective

Alan Hancock recommends watching the above video to gain a better understanding of drone technology. “To get a sense of what PIX4d software does, watch from the seven-minute mark in the video for about two minutes,” Alan said. “For topography, we need the stereoscopic photography on a grid. We also tie in ground targets of known locations and elevations. You see those from conventional air photography on roads—usually they are a large, white plus sign in the center of the road.”

Student perspective: Sandra Contreras Lopez

Sandra Contreras Lopez

Originally from Denver, Colorado, Sandra Contreras Lopez, 25, is a freshman at DCTC majoring in Civil Engineering Technology. Sandra participates in TRIO Student Support Services at DCTC. She works two jobs while going to college full-time, 18 hours a week as a TCF relationship banker and 20 hours a week as the assistant manager at O’Reilly Auto Parts. Sandra is a recipient of a $1,500 D3M Endowed Scholarship.

How do you see drone technology influencing the future of civil engineering?
Drone technology is helping land surveying by cutting time in the process. In the future, drones will help minimize human error and be able to see more in depth to recognize hazards in a structure, protecting workers and decreasing injuries. Those are just some of the benefits of drone technology.

More about Civil Engineering Technology at DCTC…

Civil Engineering Technology labs and coursework incorporate state-of-the-art equipment and software programs. Working in a diverse field with excellent employment opportunities nationwide, graduates are involved in all aspects of the construction process, including project planning, design and management as well as inspections of roads, bridges, highways, subdivisions and conventional energy plants, including wind farms.

The Civil Engineering Technology curriculum at DCTC teaches precisely the skills you’ll need to break into the profession. The curriculum is designed by faculty with decades of industry experience; they know what works and what doesn’t work.

U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Civil engineering technicians learn to use design software that civil engineers typically do not. Thus, those who master it, keep their skills current, and stay abreast of the latest software will likely improve their chances for employment.”

Learn more about Civil Engineering Technology at DCTC by contacting:

Alan Hancock
Civil Engineering Technology Faculty