Programs remembering astronauts Christa McAuliffe and Ron McNair continue their commitment to the importance of learning

We remember today the Challenger shuttle disaster that happened 25 years ago. Their crew photo captures their excitement, camaraderie and the team’s unique diversity.

The Challenger’s launch was special for me, as Christa McAuliffe was the first teacher in space, and I had been following the process of her selection and training. In life and in her death, she is an inspiration for students to become more interested in science and for teachers to reach to extend their teaching abilities. The Florida Teacher of the Year also serves as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, conducting workshops and speaking to teachers and community and business groups.

An article in Education Week discusses the numerous education programs that have developed to promote McAuliffe’s enthusiasm for teaching and learning — from the McAuliffe Regional Charter Public Middle School, in Framingham, Mass., to the Christa McAuliffe Center at Concord High School (N.H.), which is part of the Challenger Learning Center network. Teachers continue McAuliffe’s mission of inspiring students to learn about space and to be active learners.

I’ve just recently learned that Challenger astronaut and scientist Ron McNair’s legacy also promotes education. The  Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, established by the US Department of Education in 1989, encourages students in underrepresented segments of the population to work toward earning PhD degrees.

The University of Florida is one of about 100 universities nationwide that has a McNair Scholars Program. Undergraduate students develop research proposals and then compete to have their research proposals funded. Those who are selected receive a stipend to fund their research. Each McNair Scholar is matched with a UF mentor to assist as the student conducts the research. Students also participate in workshops to help them improve their academic and research skills.

One of my students from last semester has helped me learn about the McNair program, as she has asked my assistance in developing her research proposal. This has been a good learning experience for both of us and has given us the opportunity to get to work together in a way that we couldn’t do in the class of 160 that she was in.

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