By Mary Elizabeth Wheeler, Chattanooga, Tenn.– This month marks 20 years of students enjoying hands-on programs at the UTC Challenger STEM Learning Center, and the University and Chattanooga have forged close ties with this special educational venue over the last two decades.

“The UTC Challenger STEM Learning Center is an example of the strength of partnerships between our campus and our community,” said UTC Chancellor Steve Angle in a Challenger Center release. “Since opening 20 years ago, our Challenger Center has brought the excitement of science and math to life for more than 160,000 elementary and middle school students around the region.

“At the same time, UTC science education majors have honed their skills in curriculum development and instruction in this facility,” Angle said. “This partnership is helping prepare science teachers as well as inspire a new generation of young scientists for the future.”

The ultimate goal for the Challenger Learning Center is to inspire young students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), it also exposes them to UTC and encourages them to plan for their future, according to Perry Storey, director of the Challenger STEM Learning Center.

“I went on a field trip to the Challenger Center when I was in fifth grade and was never really interested in science until then,” said Annika K. Goff, freshman from Knoxville, Tenn. “That’s when I started to love science. Knowing it was here helped me make the decision to come to UTC and become a biology major.”

The UTC Challenger STEM Learning Center was a special project for Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of the Challenger Space Shuttle Commander Dick Scobee and founding chairwoman for the National Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Washington, D.C. Rodgers lives in Chattanooga and has been the driving force behind the Challenger Centers.

UTC was the first college campus to build a Challenger Learning Center, thanks to Dr. June Scobee Rodgers. The first 20 centers were built in museum and science centers but Rodgers felt the educational centers should be connected with schools.

“When I approached the University, they welcomed it with open arms,” Rodgers said.

“I finally got my way that it would be built on a campus and now most all of the centers since then are built on university campuses, this was the first,” Rodgers said. “Even those built in the past are moving to university campuses. It is a tremendous reward.”

There are currently 44 Challenger Learning Centers serving students throughout the world, as a living tribute to the Challenger crew that lost their lives 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986. Three new Challenger Centers are currently being built in California, Nevada and New York.

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