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The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs has honored the first director of STARBASE Wisconsin with a state meritorious service medal.

Dr. Charisse Sekyi (pronounced SAYchee) received the award for her role from September 2011 to December 2014 as the first director of STARBASE Wisconsin, a Defense Department-funded educational initiative administered by the Wisconsin Air National Guard located in Milwaukee. STARBASE — an acronym for Science and Technology Academies Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration — uses an inquiry-based curriculum to help 5th-grade students develop interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“A lot of elementary science education is not hands-on — it’s paper-pencil-book,” Sekyi said at the June 18, 2012 ribbon-cutting ceremony. “To be able to bring this level of activity down to the elementary level is really phenomenal.”

sm120618-Z-QS269-143.jpgSTARBASE academies serve students historically underrepresented in STEM fields. The target group includes students in inner-city or rural locations, those who are socio-economically disadvantaged, low in academic performance or have a disability. STARBASE encourages students to set goals and achieve them.

Students study Newton’s laws and Bernouli’s principle, explore robotics, nanotechnology, navigation and mapping. They use computers to design all-terrain vehicles, space stations, and submersibles. Math knowledge is emphasized as students use metric measurement, estimation, calculation geometry and data analysis to solve questions. Teamwork is fostered as part of the program.

Science, technology, engineering and math education is critical to the nation’s global competitiveness, and cultivating interest early in a student’s life can influence them to pursue those fields as careers. In her role as STARBASE director, Dr. Sekyi has directly influenced thousands of Milwaukee Public School 5th-grade students and their instructors, stimulating STEM interest through aviation and space exploration.

“The activities are so engaging,” Sekyi said in 2012. “It’s such a rich curriculum, but it’s very rigorous so there’s some work that we have to do to meet the kids where they are and bring them up to where the curriculum is.”