Base 11 is a nonprofit workforce accelerator committed to solving the growing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent crisis, which is fueled by the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities. Base 11 believes that by solving this problem, we can also help to establish a sustainable, inclusive middle class.
The STEM talent shortage is not new, but we need new solutions. There are more than two mil-lion entry-level STEM job openings, and just one million recent STEM graduates to potentially fill them, according to Burning Glass Technologies.
“When I became CEO of Base 11 in 2015, I quickly realized that industry, academia and philanthropists all cared deeply about the STEM talent shortage, but were working in silos trying to solve it,” said Landon Taylor.
Taylor decided to create STEM ecosystems where businesses, nonprofits, philanthropists and academia could collaborate to train the next generation of talent. Within those ecosystems, students from community colleges and high schools would be trained and put on a pathway to a STEM job or a four-year STEM degree.
In this model, the flagship of the STEM ecosystem is a Base 11 Innovation Center, an MIT-inspired Fab Lab where students can design and build almost anything they can imagine. Equipment includes 3D printers, CNC machines, sign cutters, vinyl cutters, programming stations and electronics testing stations.
“Base 11 has brought an array of resources to Skyline College that most community college students would never have access to,” said Regina Stanback Stroud, Ed.D., president of Skyline College (San Bruno, CA), home of the first Innovation Center. “By bringing Ivy League-quality resources to our campus, we are leveling the playing field.”
In addition to Skyline, Base 11 Innovation Centers have been established in Phoenix and Orange County, CA. Hundreds of students have used the three facilities in the past year. The facilities offer programming ranging from semester-long courses for community college students to week-long summer camps and Saturday academies for high school students.
Students using these facilities are getting hands-on project-based learning that empowers them with not only hard skills like CAD design and rapid prototyping, but also employability skills like collaboration and innovation.
According to the American Society of Engineering Education, 40-50% of engineering students switch to other majors or drop out. Experiential learning centers like Base 11 help retain students in STEM majors. In one study, 92.6% of students said hands-on lab work helped sustain their interest in STEM.
Taylor plans to build new Base 11 Innovation Centers in Seattle, New York City and Washington, D.C., within the next two years.
Comprehensive Learning Program
One example of a hands-on, project-based learning program in Base 11 Innovation Centers is the Autonomous Systems Engineering Academy (ASEA). It encompasses multiple engineering disciplines with the goal of instilling students with a love of STEM and preparing them to complete STEM majors before entering the workforce.
ASEA is a series of hands-on mini projects that culminate in the creation of an autonomous aerial vehicle, or drone. Students use additive and subtractive manufacturing to build the vehicle’s structure, then use Raspberry Pi and Arduino programming to make it fully functional. Through the program, the students learn CAD software such as 3DExperience and Solidworks.
“Project-based learning is the way to learn,” said Ernest Garrison, assistant director of access & inclusion at UCI, who works with both community college and high school students in the program. “If you give a student a lecture, they might fall asleep. But if you give a kid a drone, they definitely won’t.”
The ASEA program originated as a popular freshman course at the Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California Irvine. Base 11 then collaborated with UCI to adapt it into an eight-week intensive summer program for community college students. That program was so successful that Deloitte Foundation funded a nine-month ASEA-based high school course piloted in Philadelphia last year.
Daymer Batties, a senior at Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School who participated in the program, told the local NPR station, “I love engineering because it’s the only hands-on class we actually get to do in school.”
Recently, a grant from Dassault Systèmes U.S. Foundation enabled the program to be adapted into a semester-long, for-credit community college course that will be available at six colleges in California and Washington in 2019. “This workforce development initiative by Base 11 speaks to the huge demand for trained talent,” said Al Bunshaft, president, Dassault Systèmes U.S. Foundation. “This will offer a solution for employers, while simultaneously changing the lives of underserved students and their communities.”
In the communities around these Innovation Centers, Base 11 collaborates with community colleges, high schools, universities and employers to reverse engineer training programs that develop both the hard and soft skills that local industry needs. Employers can pose innovation challenges within the centers. For example, this fall student teams from five academic institutions will participate in an Electro-Mobility Challenge posed by Dassault Systèmes.
At many academic institutions, engineering schools lack diversity. At community colleges, African Americans and Hispanics make up a significantly greater proportion of the student body than they do at four-year institutions, according to research from the College Board.
Through Base 11’s academic-year internships and paid summer fellowships, community college students conduct research and receive mentorship at world-class institutions including Caltech, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, UCI Samueli School of Engineering, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. These experiences create connections between the classroom and real world that not only make students more likely to stay in STEM fields, but also make them more attractive to four-year universities when they are ready to transfer.
“I gained hands-on skills in assembling, disassembling and mounting the engines, and we rarely get this type of experience in the traditional classroom,” said Wai Hnin Oo, a community college student who spent the summer at the Smithsonian NASM Base 11 program before transferring to UCI to study engineering.
In the last three years, more than 70 community college students have completed Base 11 fellowships and intern-ships, and roughly half have already transferred to four-year universities including Berkeley, UCLA, USC, UC San Diego, Columbia and Michigan State.
In 2017, Orange Coast College student Hugo Villafana spent the summer at USC studying aerospace engineering. At the time, he said, “This experience motivated me more to want to get my master’s degree and a Ph.D. related to propulsion.” He has since transferred to USC and will begin his master’s coursework this year.
The Next Industrial Revolution
While Base 11’s workforce development programs aim to solve the near-term STEM shortage, the endgame is far greater. It is about elevating entire communities. As individuals move into STEM jobs, they create a new standard of living for themselves and their families, while influencing and inspiring their larger network. Thanks to the multiplier effect, we estimate that every student who uses a Base 11 Innovation Center can impact 100 more lives around them. “Human development will prove to be the industrial revolution of the 21st century,” said Taylor. Base 11 will be a catalyst for the movement.