FRAMINGHAM — The Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center at Framingham State University has received significant state funding to upgrade and modernize the center and place greater emphasis on McAuliffe’s legacy.
Since becoming director, Irene Porro said she’s been considering next steps for the McAuliffe Center — and is grateful to everyone from lawmakers to students who are making the redesign possible.
“The focus will be on building a structure that easily adapts to new technologies,” Porro said. “We will continue our programs at the Challenger Learning Center – they will be better than ever before, and we will continue our regular K-12 programs – we will just do more.”
The McAuliffe Center at Framingham State University began in 1986 with the goal of fostering lifelong learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) using a planetarium and simulated space missions .
“The McAuliffe Center is a fabulous place,” Porro said. “I’ve heard people say it’s a hidden gem – I don’t want it to be. Yes, a gem – but not hidden.”
Thanks to $5 million from the Legislature and other sources — including $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and $250,000 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council — the center will be reimagined with multi-purpose spaces that can be used for hands-on learning, simulations, thus serving as a hub and meeting place.
By transforming the space, the center can offer different programs at different ages throughout the day — offering more programs and staying open longer, Porro said.
The center will continue to offer K-12 programs, but will also feature an upgraded planetarium and mission control simulation center, virtual reality simulations, and expanded education-focused programs. environmental.
Porro said she herself would have found the labs and simulated activities very useful – building confidence through simulations and providing programs for the community to “understand what is happening on our planet”.
She said researchers and residents could find themselves in the same room, given the environmental issues facing their communities – providing space for different perspectives to come together and interact in ways that would not otherwise be possible.
“I’m also a strong believer in virtual learning, but I think we need both,” she said. “It’s a place where we can come together and not just run the simulations, but discuss the issues together.”
Honoring McAuliffe’s Legacy
Christa McAuliffe was a graduate of Framingham State College – now Framingham State University – selected from thousands of applicants to be the first teacher to go into space on mission STS-51-L. Space Shuttle Challenger collapsed less than two minutes after launch, killing everyone on board.
Porro said McAuliffe looked forward to going into space to speak to the entire planet as “one village”, as one people. She said people who visit space often appreciate how fragile our planet is – and how much the planet needs to be taken care of. Partly for this reason, the new center will focus on climate change and environmental education.
Although McAuliffe was never able to speak to the world, “she understood that there was something special about going into space and looking at Earth,” Porro said. “I feel like in a way that’s what we can do to celebrate his legacy – we need to fully develop the potential of this place, and I think we can finally start to do that.”