Chattanooga resident Dr. June Scobee Rodgers accepted the 2009 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Foundation Award for Excellence for the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Alexandria, Virginia, last May.
The Challenger Center Network was recognized for “two decades of inspiration and fostering interest in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
Rodgers, widow of Challenger Commander Dick Scobee, is the founding director and founding chair for the center.
Challenger Center plays a key role in engaging young Americans in science and technology. Challenger Learning Center programs worldwide continue the space shuttle Challenger 51-L crew’s mission of engaging teachers and students in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. Over the past 23 years, Challenger’s network of 46 Challenger Learning Centers around the world has reached millions of teachers and students. Each year more than 300,000 students fly a simulated space mission at one of the Challenger Learning Centers. Over 35,000 teachers attend professional development workshops.
The UTC Challenger Center is part of the international network of Challenger Centers, and was the first center located on a college campus. UTC’s Challenger Center developed the Micronauts program for young children, which has been adopted by Challenger Centers around the world.
With more than 31,000 members, the AIAA is the world’s largest professional society devoted to the progress of engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. In a critical 2008 AIAA report, “Working Together to Build the Aerospace Workforce of Tomorrow,” AIAA noted that “Methods should be sought to support, expand, and clone programs like the Challenger Learning Centers, which have used space as the ‘spark plug’ to motivate STEM education interest in over five million children.” STEM includes Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education.
The AIAA Foundation Award of Excellence recognizes unique contributions and extraordinary accomplishments by organizations or individuals. Past recipients are: National Reconnaissance Office, Sen. John Glen, Norman R, Augustine, Daniel Goldin,, Gen. Tommy Franks, John Travolta, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, Alan Mulally, L.S. “Skip” Fletcher, Gordon Bethune and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The science community, NASA, and aerospace industry are striving to attract students who can one day meet the needs of a versatile technical and scientific future workforce. AIAA’s 2008 report and others warn that the United States needs to make a greater investment in STEM education to maintain and increase the skilled workforce needed in the 21st century.
Challenger Center for Space Science Education is a non-profit organization founded in 1986 by the families of the astronauts tragically lost during the last flight of Challenger Space Shuttle 51-L. Using space exploration as a theme, Challenger Center creates positive experiences that raise students’ expectations of success.
By Tia Tappan, UTC intern