Defense Department Program Exposes Students to Science

By Cynthia D. Miller
In 1989, President Reagan gave the Federal Aviation Administration’s National Educator of the Year Award to Barbara Koscak because of her ability to attract students to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Her experiential, interactive curriculum was built around space and the physics of flight, and became the premise for the DoD STARBASE program which was launched in 1994 and has since graduated more than 600,000 students.

DoD STARBASE focuses mainly on fifth graders who live in inner cities, rural locations, are socio-economically disadvantaged, have low academic performance or are disabled. The program provides 25 hours of in-class studies, tours and demonstrations at National Guard, Navy, Marine Corps Air Force Reserve and Air Force bases.  

“DoD STARBASE is not meant to create future scientists and engineers per se,” said Ernie Gonzales of the office of the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs and general administrator of the program.

“Having a good foundation in science, technology, engineering and math education is essential to the DoD work force, consisting of civilian and military personnel, so this program allows us to expose what the DoD does and enhance the interest of learning science, math, engineering and technology to a diverse group of students,” he said.

The official curriculum includes 3.5 hours of physics, 3.5 hours of chemistry, four hours of technology, four hours of engineering, two hours of mathematics operations and applications and 2.5 hours of STEM career discussions. However, the actual experience offered at each academy may be different depending on which branch of the military is hosting the students and the strength of each team as they explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate STEM-related concepts.

Topics may include extinguishing fires with chemicals, transporting injured from crises, exploring aircraft cockpits and touring ships and submarines.  

The department has implemented at some academies a second-generation program known as STARBASE 2.0 for older, or repeat, students. DoD STARBASE 2.0 is an afterschool STEM mentoring program between STARBASE-Atlantis Naval Base San Diego and the National City School District where students from Ira Harbison Elementary school spend one afternoon per week with a mentor for five months while working on a team project.

Volunteers from Naval Base San Diego, Naval Air Station North Island, the Training Support Center in San Diego, and the local chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association provide mentoring and support. Students and their mentors form clubs that build slot cars for races.  

In addition to creating more 2.0 versions of the program, the Defense Department is investigating other ways to perpetuate the enthusiasm of DoD STARBASE students throughout their education and career. Program hopefuls and graduates can visit to view the “For Kids” section for news, videos and links to other STEM-related activities and programs. Potential volunteers may contact the program directly to become involved.

Cynthia D. Miller is president of Miller.Omni.Media Inc., a woman-owned small business
specializing in strategic communications, marketing and media production. She can be reached

Topics: Research and Development

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