New Challenger Learning Center coordinator seeks diverse workforce

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The former teacher is certified to handle lunar rocks.

By Andrew Casas

Educator Heather Aguillon was selected from more than 60 applicants to be the new academic program coordinator for the Challenger Learning Center at Scobee Education Center.

Scobee Education Center. File

She began her new job the first week in November.

Jennifer Becerra, the previous academic program coordinator, resigned in June and has returned to contractor work in Houston with the Johnson Space Center.

Aguillon previously worked at Girls Inc. at San Antonio as a STEM program manager and as a public school teacher for 12 years, she said Nov. 14 in an interview.

STEM is a curriculum based on educating students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Girls Inc. is a nonprofit organization with the central goal of empowering and inspiring girls and young women.

Aguillon said she has had a passion for space and science since she started teaching science in Harlandale Independent School District. She taught in elementary and high school.

Aguillon said young children should be exposed to STEM because of the careers they can achieve, she wrote in a follow up interview by email.

She said the programs at Scobee provide the experience of sitting in the chairs of Mission Control and astronaut crew members and create connections to what children are learning in school.

Aguillon’s focus on STEM opportunities for girls is to have a diverse STEM workforce to ensure all ideas and perspectives are heard.

Aguillon is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Carlow University in Pittsburgh where she earned bachelor’s degrees in elementary and special education.

Aguillon has been teacher of the year at Harlandale High School and a nominee for the same recognition at Rayburn, Wright and Gilbert elementary schools. Gillette Elementary School was Aguillon’s most recent teaching job. She taught kindergarten.

Rick Varner, director of Scobee Education Center, said in an email that Aguillon is well known across the Alamo STEM ecosystem community and Aguillon’s strength across the K-12 spectrum makes her particularly well-suited for the Challenger and Micronaut communities.

Varner also said Aguillon’s strong sense of teamwork and dedication to STEM education made her a perfect author for the next chapter of development in the Scobee community.

The Challenger Learning Center gives students in grades 4-12 the opportunity to go through a simulated mission in space. Public missions will be offered on Valentine’s Day Feb. 14 and April. 17.

The Micronaut Program at Scobee Education Center is similar to the Challenger Learning Center but it targets children ages 4-9.

Micronaut programs for grades 2-3 are to be held the week of May 11-15, while the PreK-1 Micronaut missions will be April 28–May 1.

Aguillon said on Nov. 14 she has been coming to the Scobee center for three years. She has brought her students on field trips and the girls of Girls Inc. for the STEM Summit program.

The program provides middle school and high school girls the opportunity to meet with scientists, engineers and other female professionals.

Aguillon also came to Scobee in 2017 to receive certification to be qualified to handle moon rocks.

“The moon rocks are considered national treasures,” Aguillon said. “To present them for an event or for teaching, there is process that you have to go through to be certified, and here at Scobee they certify people.”

As an academic program coordinator, Aguillon’s responsibility is to run simulated missions to Mars Monday-Thursdays for children on field trips. Challenger missions are available to school and community groups with advanced preparation.

Aguillon is in training to learn how to run the simulated missions.

She also helps with events such as Scobee’s NASA Journey to Mars Nov. 9, a family event with hands-on activities to engage children in activities associated with NASA.

The transition has been “seamless,” Aguillon said.

“No one can do a job by themselves, and here everyone is welcoming and so kind. There is a family spirit here and I like that.”

Aguillon said she loves being around children and seeing the excitement on their faces when talking about interstellar space.

After running these simulations, some of the children feel like they went to space, she said.

“Watching that excitement and engagement with the different stations that they are doing is amazing,” she said.

Aguillon said as a teacher she sometimes wondered if she was making an impact on students.

“Something as impactful as working here is unforgettable,” she said. “I feel like the impact is much greater here.”


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