HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A new program invites sixth-graders from area schools to get hands-on experience with the STARBASE Hill Screaming Eagles, a Department of Defense youth program.
The STARBASE program helps students explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math with hands-on, project-driven learning.
There are 76 STARBASE programs in the country, and Hill’s is the first in Utah. Judith Maughan, Hill’s educational outreach director, began working three years ago to get the program into Utah.
“STEM is where we are really lagging in America. When we started looking at our situation in the Department of Defense, even if we hired every science, engineer or math graduate from colleges in Utah, we still wouldn’t have enough to replace those retiring, so we really have a problem,” Maughan said.
The program’s main focus is to get students excited about working in those fields, without being intimidated and consider taking higher-level STEM courses.
“We’d like to get the kids hooked and keep the momentum going,” said Frances Bradshaw, director of Hill’s STARBASE program.
Sixth-graders from Meadowbrook Elementary in Bountiful received a good dose of hands-on learning this week during their first day of the course. Students sat at computers creating their own rocket parts on a simplified version of AutoCAD by drawing 2-D shapes, then turning them into 3-D objects.
Garrett Curtis, who designed a rocket cylinder, said he was disappointed they weren’t going straight to the robots, which comes later in the program.
“I guess we have to learn this first, before we go to the robots, but it’s cool that we can actually design what the aerospace people design,” Curtis said.
For Meadowbrook sixth-grade teacher Meghan Fe’iloaki, the program opens up avenues of opportunities for her students. “Being from a Title 1 school, this is critical for the students because it exposes them to see what careers they have never considered before, and could change their future,” Fe’iloaki said.
The 25-hour course includes instruction in physics, chemistry, technology, robotics and math. Schools come to HAFB for the program one full day a week for five weeks. The only cost to the schools is providing transportation to the base. Currently sixth-grade classes from 20 schools in Davis School District participate.
During the course, students get to participate in an engineering design process. They create a harness for an egg that is put into a small space shuttle, tied to a zip line and then released to “crash” land on a picture of Earth taped to a wall.
Crews made up of four student wingmen work together to develop ideas and design a harness to keep the egg from cracking, using cotton balls, felt, bubble wrap, string and packing peanuts.
“Months later, kids are still talking about who had the best design,” Maughan said. “They get to problem-solve and learn about working in real life with this experience.”
At the end of the course, the students are taken on a tour of the base and visit with several scientists and engineers.
“It gives kids an acquaintance with the base, especially since so much of Utah thinks we’re a closed community, but this opens up the doors for kids to develop a desire to work here or join the Air Force,” Maughan said.