Blogs  |  1.11.2022

Soaring to New Heights Through Mentorship

On a student’s journey from the classroom to the workplace, quite a few people guide and cheer them on as they find their footing in the real world. Whether it’s sharing interests in academics, athletics, extracurriculars, or even discovering a new passion together, mentors are key resources for young people and can empower, encourage, and understand them.

Helping students thrive and setting them on the path for success is at the core of Challenger Center’s mission, which is why we’re excited to celebrate National Mentoring Month this January and shine a light on those who are also helping young people thrive.

As informal educators, Challenger Learning Center Flight Directors build special bonds with students who walk through the doors of their Centers. Just as students build trust in our Flight Directors to guide them through Center Missions, they rely on them as mentors who can further support them on their STEM journeys outside of those programs.

Take Challenger Learning Center of Richland County School District One alumni, Asa Arnold, for example. As a student, Asa participated in summer camps hosted at his local Challenger Learning Center in Columbia, South Carolina. He says, “The Director [Carolyn Donelan] at my local Center took the time to meet with me, and from her, I learned a lot about what was happening in my local community in aviation. She told me about the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation’s Restoration project on a WWII B25 bomber. Thanks to Carolyn, I spent two years on the restoration crew learning new skills and meeting great people with similar interests. I think I will have a lifelong interest in aircraft restoration.”

“Our goal is to inspire students to pursue STEM careers. We include career information into our missions, our hands-on activities, and our summer camps,” said Carolyn Donelan, Lead Flight Director at the Challenger Learning Center of Richland County School District One. “And we’ve established relationships with local organizations, so when we have students, such as Asa, who are inspired to pursue a STEM career, we can connect them with people who can help them on their STEM journey.”

Mentorship doesn’t have to be a formal long-term commitment to be effective. Carolyn says, “I make sure I’m as accessible as possible to students and parents. You never know when a brief conversation after camp or a chat with a parent can spur an idea to further empower a student to pursue their interests. Sometimes I introduce them to people involved with organizations like the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation. Or I can connect them with people at our local university. Or a local astronomy group.”

By putting that extra time into the relationship with Asa and noticing his passion for aviation, Carolyn had a profound impact on Asa’s future. Asa says his experience at the Challenger Learning Center, “provided a fundamental view on what STEM careers have to offer and played a role in my decision to pursue a career in STEM as an Air Force Pilot.” Asa is currently enrolled as a student at the United States Air Force Academy.