In 1999, a new Department of Defense education initiative named STARBASE took root at Barksdale, with the goal of improving STEM education for local 5th graders.

Two decades later, the once-small program’s growth and achievements were honored during the STARBASE Louisiana 20th anniversary celebration held here June 4th.

Barksdale military leaders, local educators, school district officials, STEM industry leaders and other guests were on hand to recognize the impact STARBASE has had in the area.

In spite of limited staffing and resources, program educators improved science and math scores for 600 area students in the first year and increased their interest in STEM concepts and careers.

From those humble beginnings, STARBASE Louisiana’s reputation spread and demand for it increased.

“Today, we teach about 2,500 students from around the area in over 100 5th grade classes every year,” said Laurie Ilgenfritz, executive co-director of STARBASE Louisiana.

Ilgenfritz said the program has expanded to include high schools students and create a potential pipeline of students seeking STEM careers.

The program’s success and expansion has even been noted at the national level. According to Ilgenfritz, STARBASE Louisiana was the first to earn the designation of top performing STARBASE site, and has also qualified as a mentoring program to other STARBASE programs around the country.

Kathy Brandon, who serves alongside Ilgenfritz as executive co-director of STARBASE Louisiana, says the support received from the 307th Bomb Wing has been critical to their success.

“The wing has always provided the services necessary to sustain operations and have enthusiastically provided student tours, STEM mentoring, and guest speakers for lunches and graduations,” said Brandon. “The legacy of support from the 307th Bomb Wing sets us apart from other STARBASE sites, and has been a key factor in our ability to grow and establish other support in our community.”

Like many entities within the DOD, STARBASE faces budget challenges, potentially curtailing its ability to reach area students. Still, Brandon remains optimistic about the future.

“The staff here is committed to a culture of continuous improvement,” said Brandon. “I believe the program outreach and reputation will continue to grow through the years.”

One of the reasons for her optimism is STARBASE, Inc., a non-profit made up of local civic leaders that raise funds to fill in budget gaps.

“STARBASE, Inc. has been able to secure sizable donations from local STEM-focused corporations such as Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics,” said Brandon.

“Without their help, our middle and high school programs that have helped students build critical 21st century skills would not exist.”

Story and photo by Maxwell Daigle.