Blogs  |  11.7.2022

Limited Funding is Impacting Field Trips—And the Cost is Our STEM Professional Pipeline

Challenger Center

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Many Challenger Center alumni say that field trips to their local Challenger Learning Center were the experience that set them on a path to pursuing STEM careers:

As a child, Dr. Carla Guzzardo was mesmerized by a showing of ‘Hail Columbia!’ at the Marshall Space Flight Center. She recounts, “I didn’t know what engineering was. I didn’t know the steps to get there. It took time and a visit to a Challenger Learning Center to understand what those steps were and see that this was a viable path.” Today, Carla is a Systems Engineer at Blue Origin.

France Jackson is a User Experience Researcher at Intel Corporation and credits her decision of becoming an engineer to the experiences she had at the Challenger Learning Center of Richland County School District One. She says, “I am not sure I would be an engineer if it were not for the hands-on experiences I was able to engage in while at the Center. I definitely consider the Center and my experience there a major event in my life that I often look back on and consider its profound impact.”

Erin Burba, an Embedded Engineer at Impact Biosystems, shared, “I grew up with a healthy encouragement to pursue STEM, but for the longest time I couldn’t clearly picture myself in the field. Visiting the Challenger Learning Centers in Radcliffe and Paducah, Kentucky, helped make a STEM career an actionable plan. An astronaut or engineer or scientist wasn’t an intangible dream or movie character; it was a person who used [specific] skills. Making those connections in my mind helped with plotting a path forward.”

We want more stories like Carla, France, and Erin!

We Need a Ride!

Post-pandemic, it’s harder for teachers to take their students on field trips and experience hands-on STEM opportunities like the ones Carla, Jack, and Erin encountered. One of the largest hurdles is high transportation costs. Whether it’s public school buses or private transportation, school systems struggle to afford it.

According to Marc Behrendt and Teresa Franklin in their paper, A Review of Research on School Field Trips and Their Value in Education, field trips have become less common due to limited funding, but they’re still a key part of a child’s education. Field trips provide a foundation to inspire and motivate students, connect them to classroom concepts, and promote further learning and interest.

Kathleen Guitar, Lead Flight Director at Challenger Learning Center of Las Cruces, shared, “There are so many teachers in our district who want to bring their students—many of whom are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds—in for a mission. Sadly, the biggest obstacle is busing costs. Schools just don’t have the money in their budgets. So, to serve those teachers and their students, we end up taking activities into the classrooms. While those are positive STEM experiences, they don’t have the phenomenal impact of Challenger Learning Center’s mission experience in a space simulator environment. If we could overcome the busing cost obstacle, we could broaden our outreach considerably and truly inspire these students!”

By 8th grade, 50% of students will decide that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) “isn’t for them.” What these students don’t realize is that this severely restricts their career options down the road and negatively impacts society’s pipeline of STEM-trained professionals. One way to combat this enormous loss is by reaching more students and giving them engaging and inspiring, hands-on educational experiences at a young age, like those provided at Challenger Learning Centers—where students can feel inspired and see themselves working in STEM careers.

Lara Bates, Executive Director at Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana, shared, “We made it through the turbulent times of 2020 and 2021, but we’re still not reaching the number of students we were pre-pandemic. To make a field trip happen, teachers must coordinate chaperones, staff, schedules, and costs. These days, they also have to contend with bus and bus driver shortages.” As Lara puts it, “It really takes a village to get kids through the door.

You Can Help!

The cost of transportation for field trip experiences is a major hurdle . . . but it’s one you can help alleviate and get more students into Challenger Learning Centers for life-altering STEM experiences like those had by Carla, France, and Erin.

November 29 is Giving Tuesday—a day to pause from the hectic holiday season and give back to our communities. This year, Challenger Center is thrilled to announce that every Giving Tuesday donation made in November will be designated to The Bus Fund! This pool of funding will go to Challenger Learning Centers across the country to support the transportation of students from local schools to their Challenger Learning Centers.

Our goal is to raise $15,000—that’s approximately 30 busloads of students going to Challenger Learning Centers!

Support Our Students

Every day, across our network of Challenger Learning Centers and in classrooms, we show students how to think critically and solve tough problems. Now we need your help to solve the tough problem of getting students out of the classroom and into our Challenger Learning Centers.

By supporting our Giving Tuesday campaign, you’ll help alleviate this pain point for teachers, break down a barrier that many students face, and increase access to Challenger Center’s programs. Please join us and make a difference in the lives of our students by donating at challenger.org/donate.