As Bundaberg Regional Council progresses its bid for a NASA-affiliated Challenger Center the region has been described as a logical choice for the first Australian facility.
Challenger Center president and CEO Lance Bush said the Challenger connection to Bert Hinkler, Bundaberg’s famous solo aviator, made it an ideal location.
“When Challenger Center heard that Challenger Commander Dick Scobee was given a piece of wood from one of Bert Hinkler’s hand-made gliders to take aboard the Challenger Shuttle, we felt this was an extraordinary history between Bundaberg and Challenger Center and a wonderful opportunity to explore what a Challenger Learning Center in Australia could offer,” Mr Bush said.
“After reading more about Australia’s plans for STEM, innovation, and the launching of Australia’s Space Agency, we determined that Bundaberg would be the perfect fit for a Challenger Learning Center.
“When we open new Challenger Learning Centers, we look for partner communities that understand and see the potential of our educational value. We look for communities that have a vision for inspiring the next generation.
“Bundaberg is that kind of community.
“We are excited about the possibilities of expanding the Challenger Center footprint in Australia.”
Bundaberg Regional Council has developed a feasibility study and recently engaged with State Government departments, CQUniversity and local schools through the Youth Hub to progress plans for a local centre.
“The feasibility study the Bundaberg team conducted is an excellent evaluation of what it takes to open a Challenger Learning Center,” Mr Bush said.
“It reveals all the great possibilities a Challenger Learning Center can offer to its community and students.
“We look forward to continuing our work and developing our relationship with the team at Bundaberg.”
Challenger Center provides STEM education
Mr Bush said Challenger Centers recognised the importance of STEM education.
“We know that students are our future innovators and leaders and they’ll be the ones responsible for solving unknown challenges.”
But he said the challenge was to continue to engage students in subjects like science and math as they continued their high school education.
“They need exposure to experiences that can show them all the possibilities in these fields.
“That’s why we are dedicated to bringing these subjects to life and inspiring students to pursue STEM subjects and careers. We do this with our Center Missions at Challenger Learning Centers and with our first classroom-based program, Classroom Adventures.
“Whether in the classroom or a Center, when students experience a Challenger Center program they are developing critical 21st century skills like communication, collaboration, and problem solving, they are working as a team and making career connections.
“Our programs open students’ eyes to new possibilities, skills, and ideas.”
With centers located worldwide Mr Bush said Challenger Learning Centers become STEM hubs for their communities.
“They bring communities together. Everyone can find something they enjoy learning about at a Challenger Learning Center.
“Students visit Centers as classmates, for after school programs, summer camps and special community STEM days.
“The Centers also offer STEM opportunities for adults, with corporate missions and public events for surrounding communities to enjoy.
“We see a great opportunity for STEM partnerships in Bundaberg.
“Partnering with organisations like the Hinkler Hall of Aviation or the Great Barrier Reef can result in more community events and tourism opportunities.”
Organisations join bid for Bundaberg Challenger Center
Mayor Jack Dempsey said it was pleasing to see support growing for the project.
“Last month I met with the consortium of partners that has now come together to plan, fund and deliver this exciting project,” Mayor Dempsey said.
“This facility, when established, will become our Science Academy.
“It will be a facility to inspire young people in regional Queensland to engage with STEM in an adventurous and relevant way.”
Mayor Dempsey said it was highly beneficial to the investigations to have established a range of committed partners.
“Everyone is really positive about the project and want to see it move forward.
“Through this collaboration we have found that some concerns addressed in the feasibility study can easily be addressed through further engagement with this group.
“I have previously written to former Prime Ministers and the current Queensland Premier and minister who have all supported the location of this centre in Bundaberg.”
High schools ready to shine light on Challenger opportunity
The Bundaberg Youth Hub, which represents the region’s state high schools, has thrown its support behind the Bundaberg bid for a Challenger Center.
Project officer Jo Donnison said she felt the project team was a really good fit for local high schools.
“We have a lot of STEM based projects that happen within high schools already but I think the opportunity is to take that learning out of the school environment and just showcase to maybe students that don’t think that that’s something for them,” Ms Donnison said.
“Bring to light that it could be, it could be an area that they could get interested in or could find career pathways from. I think it’s a really great opportunity in that regard.”
Ms Donnison said she believed local schools would play a big role in the bid to secure a center for Bundaberg.
“I think it’s a great opportunity not just for our local students to be part of but also for all students in Australia to be a part of this project.
“For us to be able to kind of shine the light and lead the way, it’s really exciting.”
Challenger Center could help to grow university
CQUniversity has already been vocal in its support for a Bundaberg Challenger Center.
Vice Chancellor Luke Sinclair said it would be beneficial for students in prep right through to undergraduate studies.
“We got involved because I think something like this could be really important and a game changer in terms of education training and the STEM centre,” Mr Sinclair said.
“You’ve got the whole scope in terms of the discipline areas that can utilise this facility, to just learn new things and just take it to the next level.
“This is another reason you don’t need to leave the region and there’s fantastic opportunities, infrastructure and intelligent people that are right here.”