PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- After 16 years of inspiring fifth-graders in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), the Navy's STARBASE-Atlantis program graduated its 100,000th student Feb. 8, on board Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola.
Jalen Hunt, who goes by the call-sign 'Gator,' was the milestone graduate, and launched a special '100K' model rocket with a blue and gold paint scheme to signify the event. Hunt and Ernie Gonzales, the Department of Defense's Starbase program manager, pressed the launch button together, sending the rocket flying skyward.
"That was really awesome," said Hunt, age 10, a student at Jim Allen Elementary School. "They teach us a lot about science, technology and rockets, but we get to have fun at the same time."
Marking this historic moment with area children and educators, Gonzales had nothing but praise for the students.
"It was an honor to share this moment with Gator," said Gonzales. "The STARBASE-Atlantis kids are very inspiring; these could be our future Nobel Prize winners in science and math."
The first Navy STARBASE academy was launched in September 1994 at NAS Pensacola, and began offering local fifth-grade students an opportunity to participate in a variety of learning experiences designed to increase knowledge and interest in STEM subjects. The program has since expanded throughout the Navy.
Interest from the highest levels of the Navy has been one key to the success of the STARBASE-Atlantis program. The Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, was not able to make it to Pensacola for the ceremony, but he sent along his congratulations to the kids, noting the significance of the program.
"It's important that we do everything possible to inspire these young students to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, as they are our future," said Mabus. "Not only is STARBASE-Atlantis a lot of fun, but whether they know it or not, these kids are learning about physics, math, engineering, and aerodynamics as they work toward launching their rockets on graduation day. Graduating 100,000 students is an incredible milestone."
Success wasn't guaranteed for the program, which started off on a shoestring budget and without a permanent home.
"This milestone reflects the successful partnership between the Navy and the community to help the students who need it most," said Henry Giles, the Navy's STARBASE-Atlantis and community outreach program manager at the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC). "Watching the program grow has been extremely gratifying. We started as single site that shared space with the base chapel, and have grown into 15 sites with academies on nearly every major Naval Base in the U.S."
"I think these kids are a testimony to science and math being fun," said Malcolm Thomas, Escambia County school superintendent, and one of the dignitaries attending the ceremony. "It gives the students something to look forward to; that makes learning fun and that's the name of the game."
The STARBASE-Atlantis curriculum includes physics, chemistry, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Course topics include Newton's laws of motion, fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, model rocketry and much more. Students 'fly' aircraft on a computer flight simulator, as well as build and launch a model rocket as the final project for the course. Tours of Navy training facilities, as well as the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Blue Angels flight line, allow the students to see the STEM subjects they are learning in the classroom applied directly in the real world.
STARBASE partners with local area schools at each site, rotating class attendance throughout the school year. Kids from schools that are not in rotation for a particular year can get the STARBASE experience by applying to attend one of several weeklong sessions during the summer break.
Operated by each of the armed services, there are more than 60 Starbase programs throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, funded by the Department of Defense through Congressional appropriation since 1989. For more information on the 15 Navy STARBASE-Atlantis programs, visit: https://www.netc.navy.mil/comunity/starbase/sa.html
For more news from Naval Education and Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnet/.