04/11/2014  | 

Where can students enjoy an out-of-this-world experience while being provided a hands-on educational program that engages them in multiple areas of science, technology, engineering, and math? Blast off from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Challenger STEM Learning Center in its simulated space missions: Welcome aboard!

Director Perry Storey is focused on the Challenger Center’s goal of inspiring young students to pursue careers in STEM. “The research is very clear on this issue: We need to engage students as early as possible in their educational development to curb their potential hesitation regarding STEM-related courses and career fields. Too often students have had negative experiences in math and science areas, leading them to develop an attitude that they cannot be successful in these subjects. At the Challenger Center, we want to provide a positive educational experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.”

A trip to the Challenger Learning Center brings classroom lessons to life. The simulated environment is created from computer technology, real science data, hands-on activities, and STEM-related content. Complete with a simulated space shuttle, a mission control room, and an orbiting space station, students become astronauts, scientists, engineers, researchers, and journalists—all sharing in the thrill of discovery.

On January 28, 1986, the seven crew members of the Space Shuttle Challenger/STS-51L “Teacher in Space” mission set out to broaden educational horizons and to advance scientific knowledge. Their mission exemplified mankind’s noblest and most wondrous qualities – to explore, discover, and teach.

In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, the crew’s families came together, firmly committed to the belief that they must carry on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger crew’s educational mission. In April 1986, they created the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

The first Challenger Learning Center opened in Houston in August 1988. Today, there are more than 40 Learning Centers in the U.S., Canada, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Collectively, these centers reach more than 400,000 middle-school aged students and 40,000 teachers each year. Since 1986, the Challenger Center has impacted more than 4 million students. It maintains strong partnerships with NASA, other federal agencies, universities, and the aerospace industry, keeping curriculum current to meet National Science and Common Core Standards.

The UTC Challenger STEM Learning Center was the first center in the nation integrated with a university campus and was the special project of Dr. June Scobee Rogers who is the widow of the Challenger Space Shuttle Commander Dick Scobee and is the founding Chairperson for the National Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Washington D.C. Dr. Rogers, who lives in Chattanooga, has not only been a driving force from day one behind the Challenger Centers but is also very proud of the fact that she has taught in every grade-level classroom from kindergarten through college. Therefore, having this program formally aligned under the College of Education, has formed a strong relationship with the UTC Teachers’ Preparation Academy and is a perfect partnership to help move STEM Education forward. The Challenger programs reach students and several hundred teachers each year in a service area that includes Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Since opening it has served over 150,000 students with its quality STEM programs.

Mr. Storey points out that a visit to the Challenger Center not only helps young students envision a future in STEM careers, but also exposes them to UT Chattanooga and encourages them to plan for their future. “The majority of the young students we serve will be first generation college students, and with STEM jobs requiring post-high school education, we want each student to “Dream big—and reach for the stars.”

Programs Provided

  • Ages kindergarten through ninth grade
  • Space Missions: “Rendezvous with Comet Haley,” “Return to the Moon,” “Voyage to Mars”
  • Hands-On EVU’s Classes: “Moon Maneuvers,” “Mars Rovers,” “Pop Rocket and Construction”
  • Virtual Mission to local classrooms: “Tennessee River in Crisis”
  • STEM Summer Camps
  • Teacher Professional Development Programs
  • Team Building Programs and Retreats
by contacting the UTC Challenger STEM Learning Center:, (423) 425-2191, [email protected].
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