DOD STARBASE Edwards diversity partnerships breaking barriers in STEM education

Seventeen girls from local schools prepared for the national Team America Rocketry Challenge competition with the help of mentors at DOD STARBASE Edwards at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2022.

The American Rocketry Challenge is the world’s largest rocket contest, with nearly thousands of students nationwide competing each year. All the students are part of the STARBASE 2.0 Mighty in STEM Sisters, or MiSS, program.

Amira Flores, STARBASE Edwards Director, said the girls came from two districts and have participated in STEM initiatives and activities with the support of Mojave Unified School District Transportation office and Superintendent Dr. Katherine Aguirre. The girls are competing in the All American Rocketry Challenge in April 2022.

The TARC competition will see the girls develop and construct a rocket that will carry it’s payload of two raw eggs to heights of more than 800 feet.

“The girls are from Southern Kern Unified School District and Mojave Unified School District, and the participating schools are California City Middle School, Mojave Jr/Sr High School, and Rosamond High School,” Flores said.

The aim of the STARBASE 2.0 MiSS program is to provide girls with leadership initiatives, foster positive social change, and create STEM awareness and opportunities unmet by current strategies. The program operates under DoD STARBASE Edwards as an extension to serve the needs of the community, propel self-sufficiency, and produce future leaders from the constituency.

The MiSS program is funded by The Women’s and Girls’ Fund and supported by the Kern Community Foundation. In addition, STARBASE Edwards has developed a diverse partnership with internal and external organizations. Recently, they were supported by the Edwards AFB SparkED Innovation Team who provided a Glowforge laser printer to print rocket fins; Edwards Thrift Store who provided dress attire for the girls to wear to the 20th†Anniversary Gathering of the Eagles event; AFRL- AF STEM who provided rocket kits and reusable water bottles’ and Airman’s Attic that donated small kitchen appliances to assist STARBASE staff in producing meals for the girls.

“They are really smart and down to Earth about it. It was really cool experience,” Zophia Adams, SOAR teen.

“We were awarded $25,000 that was funded by the Women’s and Girls Fund to implement a program that exposes girls to STEM. The Glowforge workshop was another way to showcase the type of innovation available at Edwards and was provided by the innovation team to test and evaluate fins,” Flores said. “To date, we have partnered with SOAR, Edwards Spouse Club, Edwards Thrift Store, AFRL-STEM, and DoD civilian STARBASE Mentors. On April 9th, we plan on opening STARBASE facility to Edwards AFB K-12 students and families to showcase the type of STEM engagement and activities that DoD STEM has to offer, more information to follow.”

To further assist the MiSS program, several engineers from Edwards have also volunteered their time to serve as mentors for the girls.

Natalie Ventura, 775th TS, Weapons Integration, flight-technical expert, is one of the mentors that works with girls to help them out with any kind of projects. Ventura serves with the 775th Test Squadron as a system integration engineer, where her team incorporates new technology into airframes.

“A lot of that is understanding systems: how is this new technology going to impact us how is it going to bring us forward Ö so I get to bring all that back here, it always starts with design,” Ventura said. “It always starts with engineering at its core so being able to utilize these design principles, being able then to go to manufacturing, we’re going to be doing testing real soon with these rockets, I get to bring all that back here so I get to show them the real core principles of test and evaluation as well as manufacturing and design.”

Ventura explained that the STEM field has a low female population, statistically, and that she hopes the students will be encouraged to see engineering as a possible career field.

“Having them see other women doing it and encouraging them, that it is possible and I want them to see that, I really hope that they see me as a mentor; ‘if she can do it, so can I,’” she said.

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