STEM program staff gets innovative during reopening

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Paige Yenke
  • 926th Wing

STARBASE Nellis re-opened with their summer academy program July 20, 2020, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

The three week-long classes taught a combined total of 19 fifth-graders from the Las Vegas area.

The program is a Department of Defense premier educational program designed to inspire students to explore science, technology, engineering and math. 

Capt. Kalaeone Needham, 926th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintenance operations officer and STARBASE Nellis program manager, said their primary goal is to offer hands-on STEM training to kids in the local area.

“Studies have shown that kids really lose interest in those items because they don’t get that hands-on application piece,” said Needham.

Since STARBASE Nellis was founded in 2012, they have taught up to 1200 students a year and partnered with 40 local schools. However, the Nellis program was temporarily closed in Sept. 2019 due to a change in partnership.

On Feb. 11, 2020, a new memorandum of agreement was signed with Data Science Dreams Technologies and plans to reopen the school began. These plans were quickly derailed due to the onset of COVID-19 restrictions.

With new social distancing restrictions and the need to meet DoD requirements to host at least two classes per fiscal year, the staff at STARBASE Nellis got creative and the summer academy program was created.

“The adaptability of our staff constantly working towards getting STARBASE out there to impact some of these kids has been huge,” said Needham. “The staff has been really helpful in the aspect of just being resilient to getting something going.”

Tracy Clark, STARBASE Nellis director, reached out to a handful of schools to inquire if parents were interested in bringing their kids directly to the facility on Nellis AFB for classes.

Under COVID-19 guidelines, a priority was placed on making sure they were following proper safety protocols. Class size was pared down to accommodate for social distancing and the staff and students were required to wear masks.

Although students can’t tour the base at the moment, total force Airmen from various STEM related careers visited the class for demonstrations and speeches.

“It really gives them not only a different aspect of learning about a STEM approach, but also the hands-on and visual aids of seeing how the military correlates into STEM as a whole,” said Needham.

Along with the excitement of reopening, the facility will be receiving a much-needed renovation of roughly $100,000, utilizing funds received from DoD and those saved during the six months of closure. The renovations have a tentative start date of Aug. 2020 and will take approximately a month to complete.

The staff plans to host a ribbon cutting ceremony once everything returns to normal operations and will include local community leaders who have supported the program.

Although it is unclear how much physical presence will be attainable by students in the upcoming school year, STARBASE Nellis will continue to mirror guidelines and protocol put into place by Clark County School District and look for ways to reach students to provide this special educational opportunity.