Studies increasingly show that the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields are the drivers of our global economy and that these disciplines are the primary source of all innovation. Reports also show that many firms desperately need STEM-skilled employees but are struggling to find qualified individuals. It has become clear that we’re simply not producing enough individuals trained in STEM fields to fulfill current demand, and that’s a big problem if we want our country to remain globally competitive.
I’m proud to report that our district’s own military installations, Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and Fort Rucker, are taking their own measures to expose elementary school students to the STEM fields and encourage students to pursue educations in these disciplines. This past Monday I had the opportunity to visit Starbase, Maxwell Air Force Base’s five-week STEM education program, that is available to 5th graders in the River Region. Students from Montgomery, Autauga, and Elmore Counties visit Maxwell Air Force Base for classes once per week for five weeks for classroom instruction and hands-on learning experiences leading up to a final robotics project.
The Starbase experience is offered to all 5th graders, regardless of learning abilities, physical challenges, and disciplinary concerns. Starbase will serve approximately 2,000 students this year alone, but due to funding limitations, schools must rotate participation from year to year, meaning that each school participates in the program approximately every other year. I’m excited to report that Congress has restored $25 million to the national Starbase program in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which went to President Trump’s desk this week.
I also recently had the opportunity to meet with COL Craig Taylor, Commander of the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL) at Fort Rucker, and he filled me in on their program called Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS). GEMS is an extracurricular STEM education program that enables 4th-11th grade students from the Wiregrass region of our state to engage in grade-appropriate, hands-on experiments.
These students learn valuable math and science concepts, gain exposure to laboratory settings, and interact with military and civilian technicians, scientists, and engineers. USAARL’s GEMS program aims to reach those students who are underserved or underrepresented in STEM fields. GEMS is provided at no cost to students and since 2011 has been offered to more than 950 students from Fort Rucker, Enterprise, Ozark, Daleville, Dothan, and other communities. The Wiregrass is fortunate to have GEMS available to students in the area, and I’m excited to see its continued development of STEM students for our state.
It is critically important that we train up future generations of STEM professionals in order to maintain our competitive edge in innovation. Our district’s military installations are answering that call in a big way, and we are fortunate to have the Starbase and GEMS programs available to our students. I’m proud of the work being done for STEM education at Maxwell and Fort Rucker, and I am eager to see it continue and flourish.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.