STARBASE, La. National Guard Youth Challenge Program a perfect match

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Ted Daigle
  • 307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

James Harrison stood there, holding pieces of a shattered drone in his hands.

He and a fellow Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program student had painstakingly plotted coordinates to try and navigate a drone obstacle course, part of the hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum taught on the STARBASE Louisiana campus here. But the programmed coordinates were slightly off and the drone had clipped one of the obstacles hanging from the classroom ceiling, sending the aircraft crashing to the floor.

Harrison looked at his classmate with a determined glint in his eyes and started piecing the drone back together.

“Let’s do it again, we have to figure it out,” he said, looking over the coordinates.

Scenarios like that occurred throughout the time the YCP students from Camp Minden were at STARBASE Louisiana engaging in a hands-on study of Computer-Aided Design, robotics, chemistry, and a host of other STEM courses.

It was the first time YCP students had attended STARBASE Louisiana. Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic created a unique opportunity. STARBASE, which normally serves students in Caddo and Bossier parishes, had gaps in its instruction schedule due to health concerns and logistical problems brought on by the disease.

“When we realized we would not be able to work with the public school students, we started seeking other groups in the area we could help,” explained Laurie Ilgenfritz, the Director at STARBASE Louisiana.  “We reached out to the Youth Challenge Program at Camp Minden and it worked out well.”

The YCP students quickly adapted to one of STARBASE’s core tenets: mistakes are simply a path to a solution. The rigorous, hands-on curriculum required students to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to demanding scenarios that reward those who learn from mistakes.

“They are seeing that, if they try, they can be successful and if they make a mistake, it is okay as long as they don’t quit,” said Marlene Lindsay, a YCP instructor at Camp Minden.

Harrison echoed Lindsay’s thoughts on how STARBASE Louisiana approaches the learning paradigm.

“Sometimes you have to fail, but the key is to embrace those failures and learn from them,” he said.

That mentality is fundamental for YCP students. The program serves 16-18-year-old students looking for an alternative to a traditional school setting while learning self-discipline, leadership, and responsibility. After completing the program students are awarded a high school equivalency diploma.

For some students, YCP represents their best chance of pursuing their dreams. Harrison, who hopes to study Civil Engineering in college, believes his time at STARBASE has increased his chances for accomplishing that goal.

“STARBASE has definitely opened up some unique opportunities for me,” said Harrison. “The detail we can go into with things like design and 3D printing just take learning to a whole new level.”

While the YCP students gained knowledge from the STEM courses, Ilgenfritz maintained that teachers and staff learned from the students, as well.  STARBASE Louisiana normally serves 5th-grade students, so the faculty had to adjust the curriculum to ensure academic rigor.

Ilgenfritz maintained that the extra effort has formed a strong bond between the teachers and students.

“This has been one of the most rewarding things we have ever done,” she said. “The YCP students have captured our hearts and it is going to be a struggle to let them go.”

The first class of YCP students will graduate from STARBASE Louisiana in December, but an all-female YCP is set to begin in December.  Regardless of what occurs in the future, Ilgenfritz said STARBASE is committed to continuing working with the YCP students.

Ilgenfritz said plans are being laid to incorporate YCP into STARBASE 2.0, a program that goes out to high school and middle school students to teach advanced STEM concepts.