Blogs  |  9.8.2022

Crissy Cook’s Return to St. Clair County Community College as a Challenger Learning Center Flight Director

When Crissy Cook took classes at St. Clair County Community College (SC4) almost 20 years ago, she never expected to one day return to the campus in a professional capacity. Now, as a Challenger Learning Center at SC4 Flight Director, she’s on a mission to inspire the next generation of STEM pioneers.

Were You Always Interested in STEM Subjects?

“I was always interested in the sciences, but it wasn’t until I started high school that I really began to develop a passion for STEM topics. My biology teacher freshman year was amazing and really made the subject interesting and immersive. I excelled in that class, which encouraged me to continue pursuing STEM.

When I went to college, I wanted to be a science teacher. I completed my first two years of collegiate classes at SC4, then went on to finish my bachelor’s degree in education at Central Michigan University. My major was biology and life sciences, with a minor in history.

While taking a botany course, I was one of a few students selected to help maintain the orchids in the campus greenhouse. Central Michigan University has one of the largest collections of orchids in the United States. As an active volunteer, I learned about soil acidity and dissolved solids that may be harmful or potentially beneficial depending on the species of plant. It was a fully hands-on STEM experience that taught me plant knowledge that I use to this day with my own plants and garden.”

How Did Your Teaching Experience Lead You to Challenger Learning Center at SC4?

“After graduating from Central Michigan University, I accepted a job as a middle school sciences and social studies teacher at a small mountain school in Vermont. After some time, I also began teaching high school environmental science and biology—the very same class that initially sparked my interest in STEM! However, I eventually became homesick for my family and longtime friends. By this time, I’d been away from Michigan for a decade, lived and taught in three other states, and was looking forward to moving back home.

It felt serendipitous when the flight director position was posted for the new Challenger Learning Center at SC4—which opened in Port Huron in April of this year. I truly feel like the position was made for me. They were looking for a highly qualified candidate, preferably someone who had a background in education (check), a background in science or other STEM-related topics (double check), and managerial experience (triple check)! I asked myself, ‘Is a job like this even real? How is this even possible?’ It blended two things that I love: science and working with students. As a flight director, I could draw upon all of my combined professional experiences, which was a winding path that got me to this exact point in my professional career that I can now portray with confidence and knowledge.”

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

“When you enjoy coming to work every day, you know you’re doing the job you were meant for. A huge part of that is contributed to the team you work with and our team at Challenger Learning Center at SC4 is amazingly collaborative. It is honestly a joy and a lot of fun to work with them.

While running Center Missions and our other programs, I love witnessing students’ pure reactions—from the amazement on their faces when they first enter the Spacecraft, to their excited cheering when they successfully complete their mission. Even adults feel a sense of excitement and wonder when they come through our doors for a tour or mission. I get a thrill every time because they are so excited. You know an experience was memorable when you get thank you letters, and the student(s) sign off with their team role like “COM Officer”. I just love that, and it cements the validation that this younger generation is interested in STEM.”

Who’s Inspired You and How Do You Hope to Inspire Learners in Your Community?

“One of my biggest inspirations was my high school American history teacher, Mr. Presnell. I was painfully shy and content with simply completing my work and going about my daily routine.  However, Mr. Presnell would not let me continue as just a quiet observer. He saw something special in me and made it his personal mission to bring it out.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I was not at all comfortable standing up in front of the classroom, let alone giving presentations to large groups of people—two traits that are necessary for a successful teaching career! By the time I had finished high school, Mr. Presnell had provided me with the thoughtful guidance and support I needed to be able to confidently speak and perform in front of others. I had become a more confident well-rounded individual; someone who was far more prepared for whatever came next in my life.

When I am in my flight suit and in full flight director mode, I exude confidence and excitement for our mission. I would never have been able to do that if it weren’t for Mr. Presnell’s influence.

In this particular educator role, I hope that I can inspire the students who come to Challenger Learning Center at SC4 with the joy and excitement Mr. Presnell once did for me. I treat each student as the valued individual they are and every question they have as worthy of my time. You never know how just putting a little bit of yourself out there may positively impact another person and inspire their own future.”