The Challenger Learning Center for Science & Technology will transfer ownership of its Woodstock building to Aurora University in an effort to ensure the longevity of the Challenger program and expand the university’s course offerings.
The Challenger’s Board of Directors voted unanimously in late March to donate the building at 222 Church St. in Woodstock to AU, which will assume ownership and oversight of the Challenger program. AU is a private, nonprofit liberal arts university based in Aurora with satellite classes offered in Woodstock and Williams Bay, Wis.
Under terms of the agreement, the Challenger’s current staff will remain and continue to lead its STEM education programs aimed at teaching children in elementary school. Three current Challenger board members will become members of a new advisory board along with three representatives chosen by AU. Aurora began offering college classes at the Challenger location in 2010.
“Over the past five years, all of us at Aurora University have come to know and value McHenry County for the progressive ideals and goals of its residents,” said Dr. Rebecca Sherrick, president at AU.
The Challenger Learning Center is one of 41 nonprofit organizations throughout the country created as a way to honor the astronauts killed when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded in January 1986 and to promote science education and space exploration among children.
Woodstock’s Challenger Center opened in 2001, and, since that time, more than 120,000 students – mostly fifth-graders – from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin have visited the center. Most Challenger programs are affiliated with college or universities, science centers or municipalities.
Woodstock’s center had been unique, having operated exclusively on revenue generated from its primary program — school missions — and from grants and individual and business contributions.
“Forming a strategic alliance/ partnership with a college or university has been a long-term goal of the Challenger Learning Center for Science & Technology,” said Chantel Madson, executive director of Challenger.
AU will build classrooms in space currently occupied by the Challenger Center’s staffers and the center’s EdVenture Center in the eastern half of the building. AU currently has 175 students.
Challenger staff will relocate to the western side of the site. The space flight simulators, central to the school programs, will remain.
Madson said the center will continue its school missions and summer camps.
“We are proud of our record of excellence and have been recognized by the national organization for our number of missions flown, which this year is 330 classes of fifth- and sixth-graders,” Madson said. “Nearly every day of the school year, we have two classes of students flying a simulated mission.”