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MILWAUKEE – STARBASE Wisconsin was one of the big winners at the 2016 STEMMY Awards held Oct. 25 during the 13th annual sySTEMnow conference at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee.

STARBASE Wisconsin took home the award in the category of “Partnership in STEM programming” for their partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), providing a hands-on STEM program for 5th grade students.

Members, students and supporters of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math community, more commonly referred to as STEM, gathered in Milwaukee for the annual STEMMY Awards ceremony.

STARBASE is an acronym for Science and Technology Academies Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration. STARBASE Wisconsin, a Department of Defense interactive academic outreach program, helps youth increase their knowledge in STEM with a hands-on, minds-on curriculum. Fifth grade students in Milwaukee public, choice, and charter schools spend 25 hours exploring the world of the sciences through hands-on activities and experiments, computer-aided design and robotics as well as interaction with military and civilian professionals with careers in STEM fields.

sm161025-Z-LR448-001.jpgThe Partnership Award is awarded to the business, governmental agency, association, foundation or other organization whose educational outreach efforts, in partnership with individual students and local schools demonstrates a unique approach and unparalleled commitment to promoting STEM awareness and improving the STEM competency of K-12 students.

Accepting the award was retired Wisconsin Air National Guard Col. John Puttre, the director of STARBASE Wisconsin. Puttre has been with the STARBASE Wisconsin program since its inception and provided program oversight as part of his former role with the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

“The outstanding partnership between the STARBASE Wisconsin staff and the MPS science coordinator provide students with an exceptional hands-on STEM experience,” said Puttre. “Together we can make a significant difference in the lives of our Milwaukee area students by introducing them to STEM and the knowledge Wisconsin businesses support our initiatives in STEM.”

As a Wisconsin Air National Guard-sponsored program, Puttre is a natural fit as the STARBASE Wisconsin Director. Having recently retired after a 33-year career in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, Puttre has an unmatched passion for instructing kids in the STEM fields.

“The most rewarding part is watching students smile and actively engage in the hands-on lessons as they realize with their newly gained knowledge they are exploring STEM and immediately applying it to an experiment or in class project,” Puttre said regarding his work with the kids. “In just 25 hours, we have the opportunity to change the lives of our students forever and we take that opportunity seriously.”

sm161025-Z-LR448-004.jpgLisa Martin, a science teacher leader with MPS, also attended to accept the award on behalf of MPS.

When STARBASE first approached MPS to be a partner, Martin acted as a liaison between the teachers and STARBASE. She helped recruit and schedule classrooms to attend the STARBASE program.

However, recruiting classrooms is no longer an issue for STARBASE, as the waiting list to get a spot is growing every day.

“I have a waiting list of 50 classes from 30 schools wanting to get a spot in STARBASE, and it just keeps growing, said Martin.”

Martin attributes the success of the partnership between MPS and STARBASE Wisconsin to the teachers. She says news of the program has spread by word-of-mouth, and that teachers trust their fellow teachers.

Also in attendance at the STEMMY Awards, was one of the first STARBASE Wisconsin graduates, Shawanda Blackmon, now a 10th-grader at Milwaukee’s Riverside High School.

Blackmon, who is interested in pursuing the path to become a pediatric nurse, attributes her time at STARBASE with sparking an interest in science.

“It made science fun to learn,” Blackmon said. “I didn’t really have an interest in science before attending STARBASE.”

Brig. Gen. Gary Ebben, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Air, spoke highly of the Partnership award.

“It is great to see recognition of the tremendous partnership that has developed between the Milwaukee Public School system and our STARBASE program,” Ebben said. “This partnership enables the STARBASE program to provide an important STEM learning opportunity for thousands of students in the Milwaukee area.

“We are also very proud of our outstanding STARBASE instructors who make it all happen.”

Although he wasn’t able to attend, Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, was very proud of STARBASE Wisconsin’s accomplishment. He was key in getting the funding to set up what now is the STARBASE Wisconsin Academy at the Army Reserve Training Center in Milwaukee.

“I couldn’t be more impressed with the STARBASE Wisconsin program,” Dunbar said. “It reflects the great leadership we have in the Wisconsin Air National Guard and ensures we will have intelligent young men and women to lead us in the future.”

STARBASE Wisconsin is currently reaching out to the Native American community schools and the home-school community, and have already scheduled classes with a Menominee tribal school.

Puttre is hopeful they will hire two additional instructors this year, enabling them to double their capacity.