LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- The U.S. Department of Defense, in conjunction with White Sands Missile Range and the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), partnered to bring a college readiness program to New Mexico students at Oñate High School.

Col. David Trybula, White Sands Missile Range Commander, spoke at the school during the presentation of the $257,624 grant on Nov. 18. Oñate High School is in the Las Cruces Public Schools and the first in the district to receive this grant.

The grant supports college readiness through Advanced Placement classes focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) coursework. It also provides the school with a system to increase the effectiveness and provide more access to their science and mathematics programs. While the students benefit significantly from the grant, so do the teachers, staff and faculty who receive training and gain access to STEM resources.

"The NMSI grant that we are here today to celebrate could be your opportunity if you choose. What will you do with it? Do you want to change the world?" Trybula asked the auditorium full of high school students. "Changing the world is hard work, are you ready to invest in yourself? At White Sands Missile Range, we test the future, and we change the world every day."

Trybula shared his professional insights into the changing environment of the world, including the "game-changing" space capsule landing set to happen at White Sands Missile Range within the next year. He also urged the students to think about their opportunities, their future, and what studying STEM can do for them.

The installation's involvement with NMSI goes beyond the STEM curriculum and includes the organization's Military Families Mission program. It aims to ensure high academic standards and continuity from school-to-school for military families.

Moving is inevitable while in the military. When a family receives orders to move, many look into the quality of schools in that area. Retention in the military becomes a major factor when schools around an installation do not have the programs the student requires or when the standards of the schools vary and the student may fall behind due to varying requirements.

"If the schools don't have the programs they are used to or the programs that would fit their students, it is a huge retention factor," said Shannon Manion, NMSI Military Families Mission manager. "The family either stays where they are, and the military member moves, which is not good for morale, or the military member separates, or the family goes, and the children do not have the programs that would most benefit them."

The program serves over 95 military installations across the country. While the grant focuses on the number of military students, ultimately, it offers access to college-level coursework to all students at the schools they serve. The program assists over 1,300 schools across the country.