Retired Rear Admiral Navy fighter pilot Bill Hayden wants children in America to have the opportunities he had in a career focused on STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Hayden, who still goes by Tball, the callsign he earned in 1968 thanks to his signature crew cut, spent his years of decorated service flying F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam and eventually served as Chief of Naval Air Training for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Hayden worries about the dearth of homegrown engineers graduating from American colleges and universities, a concern that inspired him to found STARBASE Victory in 2002, a program that connects elementary students to the Portsmouth, Virginia Navy base for interactive Stem projects. Although he’s quick to say he doesn’t deserve credit for the program’s success – “that goes to teachers,” — Hayden has served as STARBASE volunteer executive director since day one, responsible for taking the lead in administering, fund raising and strategic planning. What began as a kernel of an idea is now integrated directly into the Portsmouth school system with labs specially built for discover-based learning. Some 10,000 4th, 5th, and 6th graders have had the benefit of going through the program.
“Kids in elementary school want to learn, but they want it to be fun. They don’t want to be preached at or run through mental drills,” said Hayden “When you do that, when you make it fun and interesting, you change a child’s perception of what school is all about.”
The way Hayden sees it, for America to compete in the global economy, the workforce has to be literate in math and science to innovate, build, and think creatively. He’s sure that when students get excited about science, math, and technology at an early age, they are more likely to study these courses as they get into high school and beyond.
Although there are 25 STARBASE programs around the country, STARBASE Victory is the only public/private partnership in the United States. “I wanted this to be privately funded,” said Hayden. “We have the freedom to be nimble and creative.”
Kids involved with the program have sheer unadulterated fun discovering things like spatial awareness, mapping and weather parameters in four day interactive learning tracks called SPACEBASE Atlas, ENVIROBASE Aquarius and AEROBASE Atlantis. Free science summer camp is also offered for fourth, fifth and sixth graders.
“Learning to be a critical thinker can’t start early enough,” said Hayden. “We want to be focused on teaching not testing. STARBASE Victory gives me great hope for what our young people will do in the future.”