Blogs  |  7.20.2022

Challenger Center Alumni Turned Flight Director: Emma Rose

In 2006, Emma Rose visited the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana with her 6th-grade class. She remembers the field trip vividly: During the space-themed simulation, Emma was on the Remote Team researching lunar rock samples using robotic arms and trying to determine a landing site for her crew. While they sent messages to the COM Officer in Mission Control, tensions grew high. The pressure of executing the simulation felt real, which had everyone on the edge of their seats! In the end, the mission was a success . . . leaving Emma’s class with the most memorable field trip they’d ever had.

As Emma continued as a high schooler and student at Purdue University Northwest, she found that she was more interested in social sciences than STEM. She didn’t think she was very strong in sciences, math, or technology—subjects she thought came naturally to others. Her favorite subjects were social studies and history, and she had dreams of becoming either a therapist or a history teacher.

But a twist of fate landed her back at the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana . . .

How Did Visiting the Challenger Learning Center Impact Your Career Path?

“While attending Purdue University Northwest, I received a call about an internship at the Challenger Center on my college campus. At the time, I didn’t realize what Challenger Center was, but I was curious. It took me about 25 minutes of research to realize that’s where I’d gone on an amazing field trip years earlier!

I excitedly turned in my resume and interviewed for the role. When I got the position, my whole world opened to STEM, space exploration, and education. I started off doing a lot of administrative tasks but quickly found myself running the Center’s summer camp programs. I grew into working with students in our labs and became a backup for our flight directors. In 2021, I started training on missions and became a full-fledged flight director, as well as the Center’s communications and events coordinator.

Starting at the Center when I was in college completely altered my career path. It wasn’t until I started as an intern that I fully realized what I wanted to be. It’s a place where I’ve been able to grow, hone my skills, and reach an incredible amount of people within our community.”

What’s Your Favorite Part About Being a Flight Director?

“I love seeing kids’ excitement before, during, and after each mission. We work very hard to ensure every student feels a sense of accomplishment—even if it’s by contributing the smallest bit of information.

During this past year and a half, we’ve seen an increase in the number of students with disabilities—from reading or learning disabilities to non-verbal communication—coming to our Center. Typically, these students were assigned non-mission-critical roles that don’t receive a lot of attention, but I believed they were leaving our missions feeling like they hadn’t contributed. To give them a sense of encouragement and participation, I started developing and utilizing supplemental activities that catered to their specific strengths. And it paid off! One teacher shared that she heard one of her quietest students speak up more confidently during our program than she ever did in class.

Seeing students walk out of our missions excited and feeling confident is my favorite part of being a flight director. It gives me a sense of pride that I can’t even describe!”

How Can Parents and Teachers Encourage Young People to Become Interested in STEM?

“Parents and teachers mold our future generations, but opening students’ eyes to STEM doesn’t have to be complicated. It can start with simple experiences, like cooking, baking, art, and music. Start small and make it fun. It’ll create memories that last a lifetime.

That said, one of our many sayings at the Center is that “science is for everyone.” Our primary goal is to keep STEM and space education accessible for every curious mind, regardless of whether they’re one or 100. A love of STEM can be sparked at any age, and we should foster learning at all stages of life.”

Who’s Someone Who Inspires You?

“Lisa Austgen was a hardworking and dedicated teacher who worked tirelessly to bring the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana to fruition in 1999. She brought programming to the local community that was dedicated to inspiring students, provided teachers with innovative curriculum, and created unparalleled educational experiences. She accomplished her dream and led the Center for eight years until she passed away at the age of 40. While I never got to meet Lisa, the strength of her legacy pushes us forward. She was the heart and soul of our Center, and she continues to inspire us to this day.”