Framingham State’s Christa McAuliffe Center Receives $5 Million From State For Expansion & Redesign

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FRAMINGHAM – Framingham State University is preparing to kickoff a transformative project to redesign and modernize the aging Christa McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning following approval of $5 million in funding from the Massachusetts State Legislature.

The goal of the project is to convert the current McAuliffe Center, located in O’Connor Hall on the Framingham State University campus, into a suite of five multifunctional, technology-enabled learning spaces, and to introduce modern visualizations and simulation capabilities.

“In our redesigned space, we will seek to serve K-16 audiences with cradle-to-career learning opportunities aligned with the needs of Massachusetts employers, increase services to underserved and underrepresented high school and college students and contribute to the formation of a diverse STEM
workforce,” said Dr. Irene Porro, Director of the McAuliffe Center. “Particular emphasis will be placed on climate education and training the workforce necessary for the development of innovative green
technologies that improve environmental protection, and contribute to the Commonwealth’s goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The total cost of the redesign project is nearly $8 million, which includes $2 million in previously allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, and $250,000 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Program.

“The McAuliffe Center has been inspiring student interest in the STEM subjects for nearly 30 years
through its Challenger Learning Center, planetarium, and other educational programs,” said Framingham State President Nancy Niemi. “But in order to continue carrying out its mission–and to honor the enduring legacy of Christa McAuliffe–it must be brought up to date with the latest technology. We are grateful to our local delegation, led by Senate President Karen Spilka, for advocating for this funding and to the Massachusetts Legislature for supporting its approval.”

The targeted completion date for the project is by the end of 2023.

A Center for the Future Once complete, the revamped McAuliffe Center will feature state-of-the-art technology, and opportunities to reach more learners across the Commonwealth

  • An upgraded planetarium and new Virtual Reality (VR) capabilities will provide large scale
    visualizations of global environmental and earth science datasets to be shared and discussed by
    teams comprising STEM and sustainability professionals, policy makers and members of the
    community. This will facilitate community engagement and an inclusive and participatory
    approach to problem-solving of climate challenges.
  • The redesigned Center will deliver simulation-based skill training aligned to regional economic
    and workforce development priorities, from the life sciences to environmental science and
    technology.
  • The Center will provide students with no previous experience in lab or field work with immersive
    learning experiences that lead to the development of the content and confidence necessary for
    advancement in a wide range of STEM fields.

  • This project will provide a continuum of services, from pre-college activities to college courses
    and undergraduate internships, dedicated to increasing college enrollment and retention and
    contribute to diversifying the Commonwealth’s green economy workforce.
  • The team at the redesigned McAuliffe Center will expand programming in afterschool hours,
    during evenings, weekends, and summer, resulting in 8,000 additional middle and high school
    students served annually.

The McAuliffe Center was established in 1986 to honor the legacy of the first teacher in space, University
alumna Christa McAuliffe ‘70.

Today, the Center functions as a hub for much of the University’s informal STEM education activity and outreach serving students and educators across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond.

Since 1994, the Center has been serving between 10,000 and 12,000 K-16 students every year. The Center hosts the only Challenger Learning Center (CLC) in Massachusetts, a digital planetarium and an exhibit hall.

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