Challenger Center could jump-start local economic development

John F. Floyd

John F. Floyd

If you are not familiar with the term STEM, you had better brush up on your English because there is going to be a lot of discussion surrounding this term.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. I believe the United States’ educational system has failed in all aspects of developing a curriculum with emphasis on those four subjects. In fact, I think it now places mediocrity over exceptionalism — but I digress.

Gadsden has an exceptional opportunity to jump-start economic development by having a proposed Northeast Alabama Challenger Learning Center locate in Gadsden.

There are 44 such centers across the country and three overseas. (This would be Alabama’s first.)

They are named for the space shuttle destroyed shortly after in launch in 1986, on what was to have been an education-based mission. Their parent organization, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, was founded by the families of the astronauts who died.

Students who attend get to participate in hands-on simulations of launching or working in space shuttles, and mission control activities.

Much has already been done to domicile this very important center in Gadsden. A Challenger Center Task Force has already been established with strong Etowah County participation.

The members include Jeff Boyd, development director, Rainbow City; Barry Cherry, co-owner, Hokes Bluff Welding and Fabrication; Tina Gregerson, president/owner, Personnel Staffing, Inc.; Craig Inzer Jr., Etowah County commissioner and business owner, Little Bridge Marina; Martha Lavender, retired president of Gadsden State Community College; Jennifer Maddox, president/CEO, Community Foundation; Allen Millican, retired circuit court judge and attorney, chair of the Gadsden City Board of Education; Nanda Patel, former owner of Holiday Inn Express and community advocate; Jeff Prince, Rainbow City Council member; Theresa Rhea, retired dean of enrollment/retention, Gadsden State Community College; Tony Smith, manager, Alabama Power Company; Elaine Spearman, retired attorney, community advocate and columnist for The Gadsden Times; Joe Taylor, mayor of Rainbow City and business owner, Landcrafters; Mark Weaver, businessman/human resources director, Stamped Products Inc; and Spencer Williams, community relations manager, Alabama Power Company.

This Challenger Center Task Force represents strong leadership with defined goals and objectives, and it’s getting support from local government. The City of Gadsden and Etowah County are supportive, and city officials are looking for a location for it. That’s an indication of Mayor Craig Ford’s dedication to much needed economic development in the city.

It is no secret that student achievement scores across the United States are deficient, especially in the STEM disciplines. That is where the highest paid and growing jobs are being created.

A public relations document highlighting the Challenger Center states, “Student achievement scores in Alabama in science and math are lagging behind the national averages, while some of the nation’s fastest growing jobs are in STEM fields. Too many learners lose interest in crucial STEM subjects at an early age, limiting future opportunities and career options.

“Recruitment of business and industry to Northeast Alabama requires us to actively pursue opportunities to prepare the workforce for current and future businesses. Every student needs STEM education to succeed. The proposed Challenger Center will help meet this need.

“The center will ignite students’ potential and passion for learning, and inspire the pursuit of careers in STEM-related fields. By partnering with this project, stakeholders will expand the future pool of high school and college graduates ready to enter the workforce with the skills for business and industry.”

The effort to bring the Challenger Center to Gadsden is a substantial move in this city’s renaissance. It would obviously be coalesced with the Advanced Manufacturing Program at Gadsden State Community College.

There would be multiple advantages to Gadsden, from the fifth- through eighth-grade students who will be involved, to corporate participants, educators, local community members and expected agreements with two- and four-year institutions. All are essential denominators to the center.

The Challenger Center task force has a daunting job in locating the center in Gadsden. There are other locations in the mix; consequently, the task force is going to need the help of every Gadsden and Etowah County resident.

More to come.

John F. Floyd is a Gadsden native who graduated from Gadsden High School in 1954. He formerly was director of United Kingdom manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., vice president of manufacturing and international operations, General Tire & Rubber Co., and director of manufacturing, Chrysler Corp. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions reflected are his own.

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: John F. Floyd discusses planned Challenger Center

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