TSTC’s Challenger Learning Center Offers New Programs in 2020

(WACO, Texas) – Texas State Technical College’s Challenger Learning Center in Waco is preparing to take you to Mars starting this spring.

The center will offer the new “Expedition Mars” mission, said Jeremy Hagman, the Challenger Learning Center’s coordinator. Groups can make reservations now for the mission, which will enable participants to learn five phases of living on Mars.

“The concept is the same,” said Nereida Balli, director of Pre-College Programs, which include the Challenger Learning Center. “There is mathematics and science involved, and STEM information and activities the students are needing to get.”

Pre-K to fourth-grade students can take part in “Pre-Supply,” the revamped Atomnaut Academy that is accepting bookings now, Hagman said. An Atomnaut Academy can accommodate up to 28 students alternating between five stations.

“The kids help pack up and plan the mission,” he said. “They adopt an astronaut of their own and prepare the mission. This is more mission-focused.”

Balli said the Atomnaut Academy will prepare students to see what they can expect in doing missions once they reach fifth grade.

The Challenger Learning Center will continue to offer the “Rendezvous With a Comet” mission for students.

The Challenger Learning Center served more than 300 students in the fall in Waco, Hagman said. More than 1,000 students visited the center in 2019.

“We are getting a lot of new business from the local schools,” he said. “It is about community-building. We are here to support their students.”

The Challenger Learning Center is the third of its kind in Texas and is affiliated with the not-for-profit Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Washington, D.C. TSTC’s Harlingen campus is also home to a Challenger Learning Center.

The center’s purpose is to bring the planets to life for students. Visitors attend a short mission briefing and then divide into groups to work in Mission Control and a working laboratory. Activities are focused on communication, critical thinking, leadership and science.

The Challenger Learning Center honors the astronauts who died Jan. 28, 1986, when a booster engine failed on the Challenger space shuttle launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The initiative was founded that year by the families of the seven astronauts tragically killed.

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.