U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently announced $25 million in authorized funding for the continuation of the nationwide STARBASE program, which motivates fifth grade students to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through hands-on learning in collaboration with military installations.

The program in New Mexico is based at Air Force Research Laboratory's (AFRL) La Luz Academy where scientists, engineers, and military volunteers from AFRL and other Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) organizations apply abstract principles to real world situations by giving students from across New Mexico interactive demonstrations on the use of STEM in different settings and careers.

"We need more New Mexico students who are passionate about STEM to fill the in-demand jobs at our national labs and military installations," said Heinrich. "STARBASE is a highly effective program that strengthens the relationships between the military, communities, and local school districts. The program at AFRL's La Luz Academy exposes students to STEM at a critical age and puts them on the path to become the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs."

Before the announcement, Heinrich toured La Luz Academy and met with students who have participated in the STARBASE program. The STARBASE program at La Luz Academy is geared toward students who are historically under-represented in the STEM fields and allows them to participate in a 25-hour hands-on curriculum where they solve scientific challenges related to aerospace.  In New Mexico, the program has served nearly 10,000 5th grade students.

The announcement was made at KAFB where Heinrich was joined by Kelly Hammett, director of AFRL Directed Energy; Ronda Cole, director of La Luz Academy; and Chaouki Abdallah, provost, The University of New Mexico. 

Heinrich also discussed giving the Department of Defense civilian on-campus recruiting authority, which enables AFRL, White Sands Missile Range, and other installations specializing in research, development, testing, and evaluation to hire from New Mexico's academic institutions.

"The long-term success of Kirtland Air Force Base can be enhanced by our college graduates, which is why I helped create a new direct-hire authority to allow Department of Defense recruiters to hire the best graduates directly from university campuses, including UNM, New Mexico Tech, and New Mexico State," said Heinrich. "This measure, along with the continuation of the STARBASE program, will strengthen the STEM pipeline and ensure that New Mexicans are prepared for the jobs of the future."

"Directed energy is a new frontier for national security research, and UNM has been a leader in that arena for more than 20 years," said Abdallah. "Along with our partners in the Air Force Research Lab, and at Kirtland Air Force Base, we are determined to be at the forefront of this research and to provide exciting new opportunities for students and important career prospects with the DOD.” 

In addition to these provisions, Heinrich also highlighted $183 million for research and development of directed energy weapon systems and other key advancements he secured in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to benefit New Mexico's men and women in uniform, military installations, national laboratories, and job creation throughout the state.  For a full list of measures secured in the NDAA for New Mexico, click here.

The NDAA sets spending levels and policies for fiscal year 2017. NDAA authorizes funding for the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons programs at Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories, as well as the Department of Energy's environmental cleanup programs including the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).