The culmination of a multi-year, collaborative effort to bring an immersive space-focused educational center to Michigan saw results on Saturday, April 30, when the Challenger Learning Center
opened its doors at St. Clair County Community College
(SC4) in Port Huron.
Students of any age can learn about space and applied science through a team-building, simulated space-themed mission, gaining hands-on experience about how to observe flight paths, address emergency situations, monitor crew health, conduct experiments such as circuit assemblies, and much more.
June Scobee Rodgers
, Ph.D., Challenger Center
Founding Chair of and widow of Challenger Space Shuttle Commander Richard “Dick” Scobee, was one of several guests attending the opening of the Challenger Learning Center at SC4 including Challenger Center President and CEO Lance Bush
, Ph.D., and former NASA astronauts and members of the Challenger Center Board of Directors Dorothy “Dottie” Metcalf-Lindenburger
, Ph.D., and Robert Curbeam
Scobee Rodgers says the Challenger Learning Center offers a great opportunity for students to experience something that her late husband loved and also realize the importance of working together to solve a problem.
“When their eyes light up with excitement of ‘Oh my gosh, we had a successful mission. We went to the moon. We went to Mars — we did that.’ They learn that it's not a single person, it’s a major team behind the scenes that makes things like that,” Scobee Rodgers says.
Scobee Rodgers says she also hopes that they'll realize the importance of each individual’s contribution as well as
gain a greater appreciation for science and technology that could lead to a career in the field.
“I knew what it meant to see students working together and learning that everyone has something to contribute,” she says. “The smartest child working on solving a problem, for them to see someone that is perceived as not as smart as they are but are really good with their hands and manipulating and building a satellite, to realize that it takes both of them.”
Bush says that over the past three and a half decades, nearly 6 million learners have experienced Challenger Center programs. He says that the Challenger Center is proud to partner with SC4 and work together to provide access to educational experiences and resources for learners in all stages of life.
“The Challenger Learning Center at St. Clair County Community College joins a network of Challenger Learning Centers that together along with our digital programs reach a quarter of a million students each year across 30 states and several countries,” Bush says. “The center we celebrate today is not just the only center in the state of Michigan, it is also the first of a very new design.”
According to the Challenger Center, Chief Operating Officer at SC4 Kirk Kramer says around 50% of students lose interest in science between middle school and eighth grade. As part of the effort to spark enthusiasm for science and stimulate interest in STEM-based careers, the Board of Trustees
at SC4 approved the over $2 million investment in late 2020 to bring the Challenger Learning Center to the region.
“The conversation around bringing the Challenger Learning Center to SC4 is really focused on our core mission and value, which is helping students achieve their dreams and helping students have access to higher education,” says Kramer. “Part of that access is ensuring that students understand all the possibilities that are available through higher education.”
In addition to support from numerous grants and donations from individuals and organizations, the region’s new educational center was made possible through a collaboration between SC4, the Challenger Center, and Unity in Learning
which includes its partners at the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum
, the Yankee Air Museum
, and the Leslie Science & Nature Center
“Some of those initial donations helped us with the build out of the space, but we also are receiving donations to support programs for schools that need some help to pay for the trip,” Kramer says. “So the donors are helping us award scholarships to schools to help attend the Challenger site and we’ll be using the calculation for the free and reduced school lunch program to help guide us on what schools need help.”
Bush says beyond education, the Challenger Center’s mission is also about inspiring future generations to pursue careers in STEM and helping solve the big issues in the world.
“Challenger Centers are very successful at engaging and inspiring students to want to learn math and science, especially at the middle school and high school levels, and we need that now more than ever in this world,” Bush says. “We have lots of big issues that can be solved with science and technology, and we need more people to do it now than ever before
Located in the Experience Center within the Clara E. Mackenzie Building on the college’s main campus, the Challenger Learning Center at SC4 is designed for a minimum group of 18 people and can accommodate up to 36 individuals.
For more information or to schedule a visit to experience the center, learn more at challenger.sc4.edu