A major focus will be educating middle school students in STEM fields.
By M.J. Callahan
A self-described “space geek” and former middle school teacher has been named director of Scobee Education Center, which is expected to open Oct. 3.
Rick Varner will oversee the center, which will consists of two areas, Scobee Planetarium directed by Bob Kelley, planetarium coordinator, and the Challenger Space Center run by Jennifer Becerra, lead flight director.
The Challenger Space Center will be one of 40 in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Korea. A center was housed at Brooks City-Base for about 10 years until it closed in 2010.
The centers carry on the educational mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger, whose “Teacher in Space” mission was abruptly halted by an explosion 73 minutes after liftoff Jan. 18, 1986.
In April of that year, the families of the seven-member crew created the first Challenger Center for Space Education.
Scobee Education Center will offer programs for the elementary level to corporate training, but the focus will be teaching team work and problem-solving skills to middle school students in a mock NASA space center.
That is an age group with which Varner is familiar.
Varner worked as an eighth grade science instructor at Deer Park Middle Magnet School in Baltimore before coming to this college.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center became home to Varner from 2005 to 2007 as an aerospace education specialist working through Oklahoma State University and Pennsylvania State University.
Varner received a bachelor of arts in childhood education and a master of education in educational administration from the University of Florida.
“I have the space geek bug,” Varner said. “I want to complement what is already here.”
Becerra, who has been here since Jan. 20, has been busy working on programs for the center, and Varner is no stranger to her work.
Becerra and Varner worked with each other remotely through the NASA while he was in Florida and she in Texas.
Varner would like to make this college a STEM hub, starting with a beta test of the Challenger program completed by middle school instructors who can find the faults from their students’ point of view.
Varner worked with the Hubble telescope project, which orbits Earth and sends photos back. He loves to see those photos depicting how extraordinary the Earth is, he said.
These show the views astronauts have as they see the Earth through cupolas, windows in spacecrafts.
Scobee Education Center is exploring getting TV screens mounted in the shape of a cupola to show the Earth in a 3-D effect, Varner said.