Blogs  |  4.6.2021

Alumni Profile: Jody Caudill

Name: Jody Caudill

Education: Pursuing a bachelor’s degree as a Space Systems Engineering Major and Astrophysics Minor at Morehead State University.

Which of our Challenger Learning Centers did you visit? 

Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky in Hazard, Kentucky.

When did you visit a Challenger Learning Center? (approximate age and/or grade)

I attended a variety of STEM programs at the Center on multiple occasions from the time I was 5 years old until I was 18 years old.

What do you remember most from your experience?

I have 13 years of wonderful memories in regards to the Challenger Learning Center, but here are a few:

From my very first summer camp at the Center, “Astronaut for a Day”, I knew that my time there wasn’t just learning new things. The Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky equaled fun! I mean, what 5-year-old wouldn’t be impressed with liquid nitrogen ice cream!?

Of course, flying the simulated space mission, Rendezvous with a Comet, with my 6th grade class was an amazing experience! I’ll always remember my job as a Communications officer! I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my folks all about how I “flew to space” that day!

6th grade was one of my most favorite years in regards to the Center. Not only did I get to fly a mission with my class, but it was the first year I was a member of my school’s First Lego League (FLL) robotics team. Actually, this was the first year FLL arrived in our area thanks to the Challenger Learning Center who brought the program to our area as the regional sponsor. Since none of us had ever heard of FLL before, none of us, including our coach, knew much about what we were doing. We had fun though and learned a lot. I not only stayed on the team through the 8th grade, but I served as a team mentor throughout high school. Once I started college, I became an official referee for the FLL Regional Qualifying Competition.

I remember how interested I was in learning engineering and coding at the Center camps during upper elementary and early high school. It was at one of these camps that I made a friend from another county in Kentucky who later became my college roommate! 

I remember my week at Destination SPACE Satellite Week Space Camp that I was able to attend after being chosen through an application process at the Challenger Learning Center. As a high school rising senior, I worked with a team to build and launch a cube satellite from which we gathered weather-related data and later shared with a group in an official presentation. It was my time at DS Sat Week that ultimately led me to my current career path – space systems engineering/astrophysics.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say what I remember most about the Challenger Learning Center is the feeling I got whenever I was there. The encouraging staff always led me to believe that “I can do this!” Oh, and… Challenger Learning Center = STEM FUN! 

Have you always been interested in STEM? 

Yes, I have always been interested in STEM, but the opportunities I had at the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky throughout my youth helped me become more aware of the vast realm of STEM possibilities and nurtured my passion for all things STEM! 

Did the visit to the Challenger Learning Center affect your decision to pursue a STEM degree or career? If yes, how?

There is no doubt that attending STEM programs via the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky had an impact on my decision to pursue a STEM career. Attending summer camps, exploring the interactive Mars Invasion Museum, and participating in Rendezvous With a Comet during grade school helped to develop a love for all things STEM. By high school, my experiences at the Center, such as Coding Academy, SPOKES Across America, and Data Seam led me to a career in engineering. However, it was the opportunity the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky provided to attend Destination SPACE Satellite Week in Asheville, NC that cemented my interest in space systems engineering and astrophysics specifically. 

Being an inaugural member of the Center’s intern group, the STEAM Team, has provided skills that will assist with securing employment and advancement in my career. How to apply and interview for a job, to plan for and carry out events, to take on responsibility, set goals, and to meet a deadline, to work both individually and as a member of a team, and to let mistakes be learning opportunities instead of failures are just some examples of the skills I gained through the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky STEAM Team.

So, yes, without a doubt, the Challenger Learning Center not only affected my decision to pursue a STEM degree and career, but my experience there also gave me the skills to help make it happen!

Do you use STEM lessons/principles in your job every day? If so, how?

Yes, not only are all of the classes in my major and minor STEM-based, but the fiddle and banjo lessons that I take for personal interest are as well. Physics and Calculus require me to apply the math skills I have learned, while my space systems engineering classes use my knowledge from all STEM areas. My learning and assignments depend heavily upon technology. 

While it surprises a lot of people that playing an instrument is a STEM skill, learning to use the science of sound and the engineering of different instruments definitely qualifies as STEM. As a matter of fact, music uses the same part of the brain as math and engineering, so it’s no surprise that many engineers are also musicians and vice versa.

Why is STEM education so critical at a young age? 

STEM education is critical at a young age for multiple reasons. If students develop a strong foundation and a love for STEM skills early on, then they are more likely to be successful in the advanced levels of STEM, such as chemistry, physics, and calculus. So many of today’s careers and those in the future are STEM-based. Early exposure to STEM education allows kids to explore the different STEM areas to see which ones they have a passion for and, as a result, which STEM careers they might choose to pursue.

What advice would you give to students who want to pursue STEM degrees or careers? 

I would recommend that they look into many STEM fields so they can find the one that resonates most with them. Attending programs at Challenger Learning Centers is an enjoyable way to explore a wide variety of STEM experiences.

In one sentence, how would you describe your Challenger Learning Center experience? 

Growing up attending a variety of fun programs with the supportive crew at the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky helped me discover my love for STEM and narrow down my career choice to space science. 

Why should people support Challenger Learning Center’s STEM programs?

The Challenger Learning Centers provide STEM opportunities that many students wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Many careers in the future will be STEM-based. Supporting the Challenger Learning Center’s STEM programs not only allows children to explore many facets of STEM at an early age which helps to build a strong STEM foundation, but it is also an investment in those who will hold these STEM career positions in the future.