We often hear conversations from parents about how “STARBASE inspired my child, and he/she finished an engineering or technology degree”. Making a difference for Portsmouth Public School students by starting STEM education in elementary school has been a successful goal of the STARBASE mission for the past 18 years.
One of these success stories is Emilee O’Dell. Emilee graduated from Churchland High School and is now a senior at Roanoke College where she is studying environmental science, public health, and religious studies. Emilee spoke at the STARBASE Victory Partner Breakfast in 2016 about her experience at STARBASE in the 6th grade. She shared that the program had a major impact on her education and career choices: “The different fields I was exposed to through STARBASE made a positive impression on me. We talked about types of futures we could have with STEM skills. I think this is really important for children today.”
Emilee recalled the wide range of hands on experiences and unique learning opportunities she had at STARBASE. A few years later, she participated in Project SEARCH under Dr. Dickerson, President of STEM Consulting Services. He was an Associat Professor of Science Education at Old Dominion University (ODU) and the project was hosted at STARBASE during the summer. The focus of the grant was to provide urban students with Meaningful Watershed Experiences (MEWEs). Emilee was a mentee who had a transformative, hands-on experience developing and deploying a nautical buoy to collect data on the Elizabeth River. She graduated from mentee to mentor in the summer before ninth grade, when she spent 3 weeks working with 5th graders on this same project. It sparked an interest in her to work with children, helped hone her problem-solving skills, and gave her added confidence about her own abilities.
Emilee is attending Roanoke College as a Beazley Scholar. She also received a Portsmouth Sports Foundation scholarship, a 2017 PIT scholarship, and a Roanoke fellowship. Emilee plans to pursue a master’s in public health. She has interest in working with immigrant communities and has worked with Community Youth Program for the past three years.
Emilee’s experiences have also prepared her for leadership roles. In her sophomore year, she was elected President of Student Government for the entire student body. Now in her senior year, Emilee is serving as a Resident Advisor in a freshman dorm. Her recognition as an exceptional student continues with her award as a Fintel Senior Scholar, which provides another $5200 scholarship and a stipend.
After her STARBASE experiences, Emilee never lost her passion for STEM. While at Churchland High, she was an active volunteer with the Elizabeth River Project, serving on a team of students who regularly participated in clean-up at the Paradise Creek Nature Park. This past winter she worked part time at a startup company, Commonwealth Learning Systems LLC, where she curated STEM content. Additionally, as a Roanoke Outreach fellow, she led a team of students in restoring shoreline and planting oysters on the Outer Banks. This kind of environmental stewardship is a testament to her desire for future generations to have clean air to breathe and water to drink.