The University of Central Florida School of Modeling and Simulation celebrated STARBASE Central Florida by hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 12. The event coincided with the first graduation ceremony for 61 students who completed the program.

STARBASE Central Florida is a 3-year Department of Defense program that was awarded last fall. The Team Orlando community, including the University of Central Florida, Naval Air Warfare Center Training Service Division, and National Center for Simulation played a key role in bringing the national Department of Defense program to Orlando, and now are actively executing the program to bring STEM-related technology and learning to the next generation MS&T workforce.

UCF School of Modeling, Simulation & Training (SMST) hosts the laboratory and offers a curriculum that introduces students to the world of MS&T, in Orlando, Florida, the MS&T epicenter. It focuses on workforce development through additional partnerships with industry, government, and academia and is a part of the national STARBASE Department of Defense youth program that provides 25 hours of STEM education over five weeks for 5th graders from underserved communities.

“Graduating the first class of STARBASE Central Florida students represents the possibilities that are open for us to design the future MS&T workforce by stimulating students through programs and opportunities,” said Dr. Grace Bochenek, Director of UCF School of Modeling, Simulation and Training. “It’s a wonderful accomplishment on many levels as STARBASE Central Florida was executed through the work of many government, industry, and academic organizations – and we are proud to be the educational partner in this program that helps develop our next-gen MS&T workforce.”

“This is truly a feather in the Team Orlando cap,” said George Cheros, president and CEO for National Center for Simulation, a member of Team Orlando and the organization charged with managing the STARBASE award. “NCS and the core Team Orlando members, including all four services, were already providing various STEM experiences to students in our community. Adding the STARBASE curriculum allows us to involve 5th graders, a targeted age that was missing previously from our overall plan. Now we are offering opportunities at every level to grow and expand our future workforce, allowing students to consider a future for themselves in a STEM-related field.”

The road to win the award of the STARBASE Central Florida began with previously established Team Orlando efforts for STEM education, but was supercharged with the support of community leaders, U.S. Representative Stephanie Murphy and City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and the hard work of NCS, NAWCTSD and UCF, to create and bring a plan to fruition.

“This effort is the epitome of what Team Orlando stands for,” said Capt. Dan Covelli, commander of Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division and NSA-Orlando. “As the sponsoring base for this DoD program, we’re committed to providing mentors and guest speakers, along with our sister services, to ensure that the effort will prosper. I feel that we — our team, NCS and University of Central Florida as our experts in education — are the model community to host a STARBASE.”

Leaders believe that the success of our Central Florida STARBASE will expand and diversify the number of local students introduced to STEM skills, and the military and industrial base will help build a talented workforce in Florida, and help close the STEM achievement gap that has emerged between the United States and other countries.

“Having the opportunity to work with NCS, NAWCTSD and our internal team to present the STARBASE Central Florida educational curriculum and to infuse technology that is designed to spark the minds of these young people, is extremely rewarding”, said Eileen Smith, interim deputy director and principle investigator for the program. “At UCF SMST it is our overarching goal to develop the MS&T leaders of the future; having the opportunity to impact students at this age brings an entirely new sense of wonder and opens areas of exploration for them to lay the foundation for their future.”

Inspiring the Workforce of the Future

Leading the program’s day-to-day activities is the project director, Lindsey Spalding, who works closely with NAWCTSD STEM outreach manager, Emily Sherkow. Together they shape the STARBASE students’ experience, offering time in the STARBASE Learning Lab for “hands-on, minds-on” activities, but also interaction with military personnel to explore careers and observe STEM applications in the “real world.”

Partnering with Central Florida schools, Team Orlando teaches an established DoD curriculum and customized M&S program, a joint effort from an extensive group of peers, which includes civilian, military, academia, and modeling, training, and simulation experts from the community.

Sherkow explains, “Our STARBASE brings in the kinds of M&S programs and research and technology we develop for Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and of course, Navy customers, so that the students here not only get a chance to talk directly one-on-one with our DoD counterparts, but with industry as well.”

Spalding, who is in the UCF-based STARBBASE laboratory with the students every day, said the enthusiasm and curiosity of the students is inspiring.

“Our first class of students just graduated, and their excitement was contagious,” she said. “Providing this opportunity allows each of our students to picture themselves in the future in a STEM-related field. What we’re doing in the program is not only fun for them but helps them realize their potential in all kinds of STEM subjects, perhaps something they never would have considered without this class.”

The STARBASE Central Florida contract is a 3-year contract. The program intends to operate 30 classes per year with 20 students per class.

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