A community’s collective passion for educating its youth brought the Challenger Learning Center for Science and Technology (CLC) to downtown Woodstock in 2000. Students, teachers, families, businesses and the City of Woodstock rallied, pledging and donating money, to make the goal a reality. Woodstock was chosen to be the home of the 44th Challenger Center in the world and to carry forward the goals of the Teacher in Space mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51-L.

In August 2000, the founding board of directors decided the vacant building at 222 Church St. was the perfect site for Illinois’ first Challenger Learning Center. The board hired architects to design a state-of-the-art, space-flight simulator and to educate, challenge and inspire students in schools in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

Funds to buy and renovate 222 Church St. and purchase the simulator, mission control and Challenger curriculums came from state and federal grants, a $1 million donation from a Woodstock business person, nearly $1 million from a Woodstock family and generous donations from CLC friends.

The first “Rendezvous with a Comet” mission was flown on September 18, 2001, by fifth grade students from Woodstock’s Clay Street School. Since then more than 150,000 students have completed Challenger Learning Center’s programming.

In addition to school-based curriculums and experiences, CLC has offered summer camps and monthly family science nights. CLC has also collaborated with other institutions and organizations to provide STEM opportunities for young people. Together with the Museum of Science and Industry, CLC piloted a Mission to Mars curriculum for sixth through eighth graders that included video conferencing with NASA scientists. CLC has worked with Northern Illinois University, Exxon Mobile and former astronaut Bernard Harris to offer NIU/Challenger summer camp experiences for middle school students.

The CLC began a relationship with Aurora University (AU) in the spring of 2010. Discussions ensued about the benefits of a merger between the two. On March 31, 2015, CLC’s property and charter were transferred to AU.

In spring 2018, a new simulation was introduced, “Expedition Mars,” with students now exploring the Red Planet. The simulation is based on NASA’s plans to explore Mars in the future, with life-like images, hands-on science and a state-of-the-art computer interface for students to navigate through their assigned tasks.

Award History