WATC, STARBASE partner up to test mobile learning lab

Korban Fowler, Future Lab coordinator, Wichita Area Technical College, places the virtual reality eyewear connected to the welding station inside of the Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab Sept. 12. The mobile lab was open to STARBASE students at McConnell Air Force Base to offer hands-on experiences in aircraft manufacturing jobs that require knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

By Master Sgt. Matt McCoy, 184th Public Affairs

The students were having so much fun, they didn’t even know they were learning. Maybe that was the plan all along.

STARBASE students at McConnell Air Force Base got hands-on experiences in aircraft manufacturing jobs when Wichita Area Technical College brought a trailer called the Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab, Sept. 12.

“The aircraft industry needs a lot of manufacturing workers,” said Jeremy Lee, Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab coordinator, Wichita Area Technical College. “This trailer is set up to give kids in Kansas ideas about what careers are out there.”

Inside the trailer were work stations that used computer software and hardware components to teach people how to perform technical jobs through virtual reality.

“For instance, we have the sheet metal riveting station, we have aircraft painting, we also have a virtual welder and we have an intro to programming,” said Lee.

A STARBASE student at McConnell Air Force Base uses the virtual reality paint spraying station inside of Wichita Area Technical College’s Future Maker Mobile Learning Lab Sept. 12. The mobile lab introduced STARBASE students to aircraft manufacturing skills including sheet metal riveting, paint spraying, welding and programing during the one-day visit. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)

STARBASE is a Department of Defense program that exposes children to technological environments and positive role models found on military installations. The program offers students 25 hours of hands-on instruction and activities focused on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

“One of the components of our curriculum is that we give a tour for STEM jobs,” said Aaron Santry, director, STARBASE Wichita. “Today we’re working on a partnership with the Wichita Area Technical College. They have a trailer that they got through grants to reach out to high school students to show them STEM careers.”

Santry and WATC coordinators partnered up to perform a dry-run of the trailer before taking it to high schools.

“It’s geared towards [high school] sophomore and junior-year students,” said Lee. “That’s when a lot of kids in Kansas drop out legally without their parents’ consent.”

The WATC coordinators recognized that students have misconceptions toward STEM subjects. Science-driven technology steeped in engineering and math can be somewhat intimidating, or perhaps, not interesting to high school students.

The trailer dispels those misconceptions by relating STEM to well-paying and interesting careers.

“They’re exploring what kind of jobs are in the STEM industries and how STEM impacts those jobs,” said Santry. “For instance, you wouldn’t think of welding as a STEM job, but understanding what you’re welding and the interworking of aircraft, those are obviously science-driven platforms.”

STARBASE Wichita is located on the Air National Guard side of McConnell Air Force Base and is heavily supported by the 184th Intelligence Wing.