What to know about STARBASE, the Department of Defense's youth outreach program that nurtures a love for STEM.
Parents and kids are abuzz about STARBASE, the Department of Defense (DoD) youth outreach program that uses a “hands on-minds on” method to nurture a love of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). STARBASE academies are hosted on military bases where participants interact with military personnel to see challenging STEM applications in real-world settings. The program is aimed at fifth graders, especially those living in rural or inner-city areas. It’s also geared toward students with low academic performance, learning disabilities, or socio-economic disadvantages.
The main STARBASE objective is to motivate kids to set goals and achieve them while sparking interest in STEM careers. A team of leading educators and scientists designed its inquiry-based curriculum and military members volunteer as educators, mentors, tour guides, and expert speakers. The lessons they deliver hit on all four STEM subjects—sometimes all at once. Students commit to 25 classroom hours in the program. Projects may include designing space stations and submersibles with 3-D computer-aided design or learning about robotics.
Math is woven throughout the STARBASE curriculum, teaching participants about metric measurement, data analysis, estimation, and geometry. Teamwork is emphasized and students are encouraged to work together to find solutions. Interacting with different branches of the military means that one group of students may learn how to extinguish chemical fires while another group explores a submarine’s interior.
The program has served over 1.5 million students since 1993 and has been expanded to include STARBASE 2.0, an after-school enrichment program for sixth to eighth graders. It extends the same STEM-rich activities to at-risk youth, utilizing a mentorship approach that helps kids feel more positively connected to their schools. Many STARBASE 2.0 groups are actively involved with FIRST LEGO Leagues during the school year and offer free camp programs throughout the summer.
Title 1 schools—those with a large number of students from low-income families—make up the largest number of participating schools. However, STARBASE participation is not limited only to students attending public schools. A significant number of private school and homeschool students register for STARBASE academies and camps.
Parent feedback on the website is impressive, with many expressing gratitude for how the program awakened their students’ interest in STEM. The parent of a student who attended STARBASE at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio talked about how the program helps fill educational gaps resulting from decreased school resources. “With local school budgets increasingly stressed and limited enrichment available to students most in need, STARBASE is a critical resource for the region that brings two different worlds together to solve ‘impossible’ problems and dream ‘impossible’ dreams.”
Graduates of STARBASE academies offer high praise for the program, too. A student from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana said, “Before I went to STARBASE, I felt like I wasn’t good at STEM, but when I was done, I felt like a genius at it. It was really interesting because the staff made it interesting. They didn’t teach it out of a boring textbook. They made it REALLY fun!!!” Jessica, a student at STARBASE Minnesota said that the program sparked a new sense of overall curiosity. “After STARBASE I want to ask more questions like ‘how is it doing that?’, ‘where did that come from?’ and figuring things out.”
STARBASE programs are held at 78 Army, Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Marine, and National Guard bases across the United States. Use the STARBASE locator tool to find your nearest location. Parents interested in learning more about the program can view the 2021 STARBASE Annual Report to see statistics on its effectiveness and positive student outcomes. The report includes teacher feedback that indicates they love the impact STARBASE has on students. A full 99.6 percent of surveyed teachers stated that they would recommend the program to other school personnel.