Name: Sean Robinson
Center Visited: Challenger Learning Center at Heartland Community College
Education: Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (UIUC), Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from UIUC (in progress)
Current Profession: Manufacturing Engineer at Aerojet Rocketdyne
Previous STEM Experience: Tech- Network Consultant
When did you visit a Challenger Learning Center? 8th grade
What do you remember most from your experience? Our mission was to rendezvous with an asteroid, and the whole class was split into several different crew functions based on interests and strengths. There was a lot of excited and curious gossip when the crew assignments were posted – “What do you think Medical or Engineering or Navigation will be doing?” I remember the navigation puzzles were fairly challenging and interesting, the room was setup to look like an actual mission control. The mission timers added a lot of tension and it was very exciting when we successfully completed the mission. It definitely contributed to my interest in orbital mechanics, asteroid rendezvous, and human spaceflight.
How did your experience at the Center play a part in your decision to take additional STEM related classes, pursue a STEM-related degree and/or follow a STEM career path? I had always been passionate about spaceflight and NASA – but Challenger Center reinforced that. I think it narrowed my focus from wanting to be “a computer guy or engineer” to definitely needing to work on space projects. My group is now building rocket engines that will potentially deliver astronauts to a real life NASA asteroid rendezvous mission!
In your opinion, why is STEM education so critical at a young age? STEM education and outreach is certainly critical at a younger age because you’re learning all of the building blocks and basics, which aren’t always the most exciting or applicable parts. Math and science need some cool and relevant real world examples like Challenger Center to show what the end result of all their hard work will be. It’s tough for an eighth grader to see how their Algebra class relates to the space shuttle, but by investing in quality STEM education – it helps lay out a path for them all the way through college and beyond.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in STEM subjects and want to pursue STEM-focused degrees and careers? Stay passionate about math and science – don’t be afraid to take on projects outside of school. That’s when the really fun stuff happens. If your peers tease you for being a nerd or for reading too much – it means you’re probably on the right track.
In one sentence, how would you describe your experience at the Challenger Learning Center? A thrilling space-themed education simulation that provoked a lifelong love for human space exploration – now I work on the real thing.