I attended STARBASE as a 4th grader. I don’t remember all the details, but I think there was a group of 4th-6th graders who were a part of the gifted program from my county that travelled to Wichita once a week (or maybe every other) so that we could attend the STARBASE program at McConnell.
I grew up in a very small town, Hillsboro, so I was mostly exposed to professions that were related to agriculture; however, as far back as I can remember I always had some interest in aerospace. When I was about 5, I would borrow my dad’s tools to build an “airplane” which was essentially a piece of plywood with a 1 x 2 nailed to it and some radio wires that I taped on. Also, in grade school, my favorite field trips were always the ones where we got to go to the Cosmosphere in Hutch. For me, I guess you could say attending SB scratched an itch I had, even as a young kid, and gave me an opportunity to explore a career field to which I didn’t otherwise have much real exposure. I can still feel the excitement I had as a kid when I found out we were going to attend STARBASE. In my mind, at the time, going to SB for a day would have been preferred over a day at Disneyland. At SB I remember learning the call signs (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc), taking a quiz that involved knowing the difference between longitude and latitude, and watching some B-1 bombers takeoff, but the highlight, by far, was building our rockets and shooting them off on the last day. I know we did many more things, but those are the ones I recall.
When folks ask me today how I decided on aerospace engineering, I tell them of three prominent experiences I had growing up. The first was attending STARBASE, the second was getting to watch John Glenn blastoff into space when I was in 6th grade (I don’t know what it was about watching an old man return to space, but it probably had to do with the fact that I grew up in an era where shuttle launches are very rarely covered on national TV), and the final thing was I had an amazing math teacher when I was in high school.
Almost 20 years later, I still look back on my time at STARBASE as a profound moment that helped put me on the path I am on today. Obviously as a 10 year old I wasn’t planning my career, but STARBASE was an experience that kept me interested in aerospace. I think it is an important program, as it exposes kids, especially ones from Kansas, to careers they may not have otherwise experienced. I’m very lucky to have been a part of it, and I’m very happy to see it still going strong today.
Dr. Emily Arnold
Assistant Professor, Aerospace Engineering
University of Kansas