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The STARBASE Central Florida officially celebrated its opening at a ribbon cutting in the University of Central Florida Partnership III Building on Tuesday, April 12, coming on the evening of its first graduation of 61 inaugural students.

STARBASE Central Florida specializes in introducing students to the world of modeling, simulation, and training (MS&T) – perfectly at home in Orlando, the epicenter for MS&T. It focuses on workforce development through partnerships with industry, government, and academia. It 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.

“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 the already established Team Orlando efforts for STEM education, but was supercharged with the work of NCS, NAWCTSD and UCF, to create a plan to bring it home, not to mention the support from other community leaders like U.S. Representative Stephanie Murphy and City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Michael O’Toole, who leads the national DoD STARBASE program, and is part of the evaluation team to award the STARBASE to Central Florida, made the trip to Orlando for the ceremony and to celebrate one of their newest programs.

“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 acquisition of a STARBASE will expand and diversify the number of Central Florida students introduced to STEM skills and the military, and help to build a talented workforce in Florida, but will also help close the STEM achievement gap that has emerged between the United States and other countries.

“NCS spends a great deal of time on improving our MS&T pipeline initiatives because our nation’s security hinge on maintaining a robust pipeline of STEM talent,” said Neal Finkelstein, Ph.D., COO for National Center for Simulation.

Finkelstein noted, for example, in the DoD civilian workforce, the largest portion of the technical workforce falls within the range of 45 to 63 years old. One in five employees of this workforce is eligible to retire, which means by 2025, almost 50 percent of our workforce will be eligible for retirement.

“When we talk about a modernized force in 2035 and 2045, we can’t get there without inspiring a generation to be scientists and engineers in our military labs, the industrial base or at universities. You never know which young person is going to change the world for the better,” said Finkelstein.

Inspiring the Workforce of the Future

Leading the program’s day-to-day activities is the 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 STARBASE 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 labs 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.”

Complementing the efforts of STARBASE, NCS also supports an M&S Certification program that is industry-accredited and aligned with the M&S framework and standards. It is available to novice M&S professionals throughout the nation. Information about the certification, study guide, and teacher certification is on the NCS website.

Featured photo: STARBASE Central Florida celebrated its ribbon cutting on the evening of graduating its first class of 61 students. Pictured (from l to r) are Lindsey Spalding, STARBASE Central Florida Director; Michael O’Toole, STARBASE DoD Program; CAPT Dan Covelli, NAWCTSD Commander; George Cheros, NCS President/CEO; Emily Sherkow, STEM Outreach Manager for NAWCTSD; and Eileen Smith, IST Interim Deputy Director, UCF School of Modeling, Simulation and Training.

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