Burgett looks to grow Arnold Air Force Base STEM program

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

Julia Burgett remembers racing the cheetah.

An enduring exhibit at the Hands-On Science Center in Tullahoma – and Burgett’s personal favorite – simulates the speeds of several animals, including the speedy squirrel, zippy rabbit, deceptively fast elephant and, of course, lightning-quick cheetah. A child can choose an animal to “race” and a series of lights along a track illuminate to represent the speed of the selected critter. It is up to the child to attempt to outrun the lights.

Like many who grew up in the area, Burgett visited the HOSC as a youth. There, she hopped from exhibit to exhibit, experimenting, playing and learning all the while. These trips helped foster her interest in science, technology, engineering and math, more commonly referred to as STEM.

Now, it’s the Franklin County native’s job to help pique local children’s interest in STEM.

Since mid-August, Burgett has served as the STEM coordinator for Arnold Air Force Base. Through a partnership with the Air Force, Arnold AFB STEM program learning tools and program support previously were transferred to the HOSC. Burgett is responsible for executing the Arnold STEM program and working to grow it by promoting activities and available resources.  

Burgett brings six years of public education experience to the role. She taught for three years in the Bedford County Schools system and three years in Tullahoma at East Lincoln Elementary School. She earned her bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies from Tennessee Tech University and her master’s in curriculum and instruction from Middle Tennessee State University. Burgett is also continuing her education, currently pursuing an educational specialist degree from Arkansas State University.

Most recently, Burgett taught reading and social studies. It was her own affinity for STEM and the opportunity to advance it locally that led Burgett to apply for the Arnold AFB STEM job when she came across the opening.

“I really wanted to kind of focus more on STEM because it’s exciting,” she said. “It’s the stuff that the kids really enjoy.”

Much of Burgett’s time as Arnold STEM coordinator has been spent preparing take-home Air Force STEM kits. These free kits are boxes that contain the items and instructions necessary for a child to conduct an experiment at home. Burgett writes the curriculum for and helps put together the kits.

New kits are currently developed monthly, meaning a new experiment is offered each month.

Burgett also leads community STEM events and oversees the Lending Library, a collection of resources parents and teachers can check out to use at home or in the classroom.

Burgett’s goals include getting the STEM kits out on a more regular basis. She intends to begin putting out two kits each month after the new year and hopes to get the word out that they are available through the HOSC. She also wishes to offer visitors an enhanced exhibit experience.

The interactive exhibits at the HOSC, Burgett said, provide places for students to take the concepts they learned from the STEM kits and apply them to other learning opportunities.

“If they’re not a sit-in-the-classroom type of a child or a reading type of child, they may really benefit from having a hands-on type of experience which we offer here at Hands-On Science Center,” she said. “They can have a learning-through-play kind of experience, and that can kind of lead into a career in STEM.”

And Burgett’s top priority is encouraging STEM interest among youth in the area. This, she said, could spur an interest in some to pursue a career at Arnold when they get older.

“It really gets your mind thinking,” Burgett said of STEM. “It’s not just that it’s exciting. It’s what our modern world is going to. And it’s so great to have something like Arnold Air Force Base so close by because it offers so many job opportunities, and I don’t think our kids realize that, that we have something so readily available with resources and job opportunities, and we have that right next door. I just feel like they can be successful somewhere really close to home.”

Burgett added the HOSC has a part to play in bolstering STEM interest among local children.

“I think the Hands-On Science Center plays a really important role because there’s nothing like this until you get to Murfreesboro,” she said. “Your kids can come and play and can imagine and they can experiment.”

Burgett added the Arnold AF STEM is looking for volunteers who could help put together the STEM kits or assist with community events.

For more information about the Arnold AF STEM program, visit https://www.arnold.af.mil/About-Us/STEM/ and www.hosc.org. Those wishing to volunteer may call the HOSC at 931-455-8387 or email hoscafstem@hosctn.org.