Blogs  |  4.24.2024

Celebrating Our Challenger Learning Center Volunteers

As we celebrate National Volunteer Month this April, we want to spotlight just a few individuals who represent all of the amazing volunteers we have at Challenger Learning Centers across the country. They generously give their time and talent to help us fulfill our mission of inspiring the next generation of STEM explorers and innovators. We couldn’t do it without them!

Challenger Learning Center at Montco Pottstown

Todd Miller and Sam Davis are critical to the success of Center Missions at Challenger Learning Center at Montco Pottstown as they assist students with questions, set up and reset before and after each mission, and provide feedback on mission success. Their help has been particularly instrumental in allowing the Center to host larger groups of students.

Todd is a product engineer and began volunteering with the Center in early 2023 to give back to his community and work alongside a STEM program that allows students to see themselves reflected in STEM careers. He shared, “Getting a STEM education is essential for today’s students. Most of the kids who attend Center Missions are extremely excited to participate and it’s great to be part of their experience. When you see them have those “lightbulb” moments during a mission, you know that knowledge is something they’ll remember and use in the future. Challenger Center’s programs are very interesting and constantly evolving, which keeps me motivated as well.”

Sam is a retiree who worked at Lockheed Martin for a majority of his career. As a Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) graduate and through his involvement in the MCCC Foundation, Sam started volunteering with the Center in early 2023 to share his STEM knowledge and experience with students. When asked why he loves volunteering, Sam said, “STEM careers provide interesting, challenging, and rewarding opportunities for young people. Challenger Center provides a wonderful opportunity to stimulate students’ interest in STEM and technical careers. Volunteering provides me with the opportunity to help stimulate students’ interest in these disciplines. My favorite part is watching students’ excitement—seeing their reaction when they first enter Mission Control, the anticipation when they see the hands-on workstations in Spacecraft, and observing their sense of accomplishment as they perform their tasks. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to participate in their growth and discovery of STEM and space exploration.”

Annalise Giuliani, Program Manager at Challenger Learning Center at Montco Pottstown, shared, “Our team is filled with gratitude for the countless hours, boundless energy, and unwavering dedication Todd and Sam pour into not only Challenger Center’s mission, but the students they interact with each day. From lending a hand during missions to offering expertise and support, their contributions do not go unnoticed. Our volunteers have been crucial to the success of our Center during its first few operational years and continue to provide invaluable support and commitment to the program. We simply could not achieve our goals without them. Todd and Sam embody the spirit of community, reminding us that together, we can achieve anything.”

Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana

Jennalyse and Michelle Blanford are twin sisters who both attended Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana’s summer camps and Center Missions as children. Jennalyse is now a student at Purdue University Northwest studying computer graphics technology, and Michelle is studying medical laboratory sciences and biomedical health sciences at Purdue University West Lafayette. They’ve both returned to the Center as volunteers.

Jennalyse first learned about the volunteer opportunity through her college, where the Center is located. She was excited to return and be an extra set of hands to help keep the day-to-day operations run as smoothly as possible, helping with projects, or answering students’ questions. She said, “I love the atmosphere here. Everyone is so nice and supportive!”

Emma Rose, Communication and Events Coordinator at Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana, shared, “Jennalyse is one of our most exemplary volunteers! She’s so good at connecting with campers on their level and making sure they feel comfortable, sharing her excitement for all things science and art. She does a wonderful job conveying her knowledge to our students.”

When asked why volunteering is important to her, Michelle shared, “As a woman pursuing science, I really enjoy when young girls get excited about the Center’s programs because it makes me hopeful they’ll pursue a science career too. At their age, I didn’t know anyone in the science field to encourage me. I hope I can make at least a small difference in helping another girl choose to go into the field.”

Emma shared, “During the school year, Michelle volunteers as a ‘Space Cadet’ to help students in Mission Control. Patient and calm under pressure, Michelle is such a great assistant to our Flight Directors, always explaining tasks to students calmly and clearly. She has fun with the students while helping them feel immersed in their mission.”

Challenger Learning Center of Woodstock

Tom Burg has volunteered with Challenger Learning Center of Woodstock for a decade. Now a Mission Specialist, he greets buses of students every morning, assists teams (especially ROV) in Spacecraft, and helps reset missions each day.

Many years ago, Tom was a high school math teacher. He always enjoyed seeing the “light bulb” suddenly come on when a student, who had previously been struggling, learned how to do something. Fast forward in time: Tom was downsized from a company he was working for and decided to spend his time volunteering at the Center.

Tom shared, “As a Mission Specialist, I’m able to spend time telling stories about astronauts while the Commanders run missions (and must hit timing marks). I call it my ‘senior daycare.’ I drop myself off in the morning and pick myself up in the afternoon … and I get to be a kid using my imagination in between. In the simulator, students who don’t always receive good grades in the classroom find ways of being successful in their assigned job. Their smiles make the day something I want to come back to again and again.”

Denise Brock, Director of Challenger Learning Center of Woodstock, shared, “We value Tom’s commitment to our Center and the students, making sure they feel part of each mission and understand the role they’re playing. Current and past Center staff appreciate Tom’s love of space knowledge and his drive to learn more. Most of all, we value Tom’s kind words and smile that reminds us that we’re all here to spark the imaginations of our students and teachers.”