THE CHALLENGER LEARNING CENTER OF ALASKA
In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, the crew’s families came together, firmly committed to the belief that they must carry on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger crew’s educational mission. Their efforts resulted in the creation of Challenger Center for Space Science Education.
Challenger Center and its global network of Challenger Learning Centers use space-themed simulated learning and role-playing strategies to help students bring their classroom studies to life and cultivate skills needed for future success, such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork.
Challenger Learning Center of Alaska (CLCA) is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in operation since April 2000. Located in Kenai, Alaska; CLCA is the thirty-ninth center in the Challenger Learning Center for Space Science Education international network, a program created in 1986 by the families of the astronauts lost in the Challenger 51-L mission.
CLCA was created to meet the educational needs of students throughout Alaska. Using simulated space and earth science missions, distance education and hands-on workshops, CLCA inspires youth to develop an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and to consider careers in these fields. Through a variety of hands on mediums, participants work in an environment that spans academic areas while learning valuable skills in problem solving, communication, and teamwork.
The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska is a vital and valuable educational resource for our state and is dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of academic excellence. CLCA is in a position to be the leading resource in STEM education for Alaska’s educators and home school organizations with comprehensive curriculum aligned with state standards and grade level expectations, combined with training, reference materials, and classroom support.
A proud part of the Challenger Center Network
As a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, Challenger Center and its international network of more than 40 Challenger Learning Centers use space-themed simulated learning environment to engage students in dynamic, hands-on opportunities. These experiences strengthen knowledge in STEM subjects and inspire students to pursue careers in these important fields. Challenger Learning Center of Alaska is part of the global network that reaches hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers each year. Founded in 1986, Challenger Center was created to honor the crew of shuttle flight STS-51L.
Thank you for the support from our Board of Directors
Meet Our Team!
Marnie Olcott was born in a small town in central Oregon, moving with her family to Anchorage Alaska when she was 12 years old. During High School, Olcott moved out of Alaska and lived in California, Oregon and Colorado before returning back to Alaska full time with her two (2) children in 2000 upon the completion of a full service lodge built and operated by Olcott, mother, and sister. Olcott joined the team at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska (CLCA) in 2006 as a part time Flight Director/Educator. From 2007-2010, Marnie served as the Chief Operating Officer for CLCA and in July of 2010 accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer. As CEO, Olcott manages budgets, oversees operations, training, facility and management staff of the Center. Under Olcott’s management, CLCA has implemented and expanded outreach, on-site and distance based educational programs, curriculum development, community programs and partnerships in the ongoing mission to inspire and engage Alaska’s youth in the STEM fields. Over the last ten (10) years, Olcott has built and integrated a successful Industry based training operation creating a lasting revenue stream to fund statewide educational efforts. CLCA is recognized as a leading resource for STEM Education across Alaska. Olcott has a proven track record in both creating and managing overall operating budgets, project budgets and reporting. Under Olcott’s leadership, CLCA has been the recipient of many state and federal grants. CLCA is an affiliate member of the Alaska Space Grant Consortium, receiving, successfully implementing and reporting on annual grants. Over the course of 20 years, Challenge has been the recipient of multiple NASA grants. All grants have been successfully implemented and in complete compliance.
Colette moved from upstate New York to start her new adventures in Alaska in 2013. Since then she has taken on many administrative roles, starting with serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA, developing sustainability of homeless teen shelters in Fairbanks. With a natural curiosity in STEM, a bachelors degree in Advertising Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology, experience in program development and marketing, and her love for kids, Colette became the Computer Tech Lab Lead for two years, teaching k-5th graders at Fort Wainwright, and Fort Drum School Age Services, in 2014. In her program Colette created and administered STEM activities, multiple 4-H clubs, and taught computer skills. Along with other positions she’s held, and her own commercial photography business, Colette has done marketing for multiple local businesses over the years; directing and filming marketing videos, creating imagery and promos, events and fundraising, and writing social media and website content. Colette is excited to be a part of the CLCA team. “You know it is something special when you see excitement in students and adults alike, when they step into our center. Not to mention, I get to occasionally play with them!” When time allows, Colette loves enjoying the coastal beaches the peninsula has to offer, going hiking, fishing, and working in her ever-expanding vegetable garden. Among photography, baking is also something Colette greatly enjoys; making scratch pies and bread. Secretly, Colette dreams of opening her own bakery one day…along with a ferret rescue.
Suzanne Phillips joined the Challenger Learning Center in September of 2019, bringing with her 18 years of experience as a High School Science Teacher in Texas and Oklahoma. She has been involved in various ways with NASA since 2001 when she coached a team of high school students who flew a project on the Reduced-gravity aircraft. Since that initial visit, she has returned nearly every year to participate in various programs, including conducting experiments in zero-g on NASA’s Reduced-gravity aircraft, visiting the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at Johnson Space Center, spending time on the floor at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility in Building 9, and spending time on the flight line at Ellington Field in Houston. Suzanne returned yearly to the NASA Space Exploration Educators Conference, both as a presenter and an attendee, enjoying sessions on the latest in Space Exploration and Research, and educational lesson and activity sessions on a variety of STEM topics to take back to her classroom. Originally from Odessa, TX, she came to Alaska in 2016 and lives in Kenai with her husband and teenage son. In her spare time, Suzanne and her family enjoy spending time in the gorgeous Alaska outdoors and are huge movie buffs. Suzanne is excited to be a part of the Challenger Learning Center mission and its passion for Science Education. If you see Suzanne, make sure to ask her to show you her Atom dance!
Laura moved to Alaska in 1988 from Colorado. She and her husband, Sonny, have loved raising their ten children in our beautiful state! In the past 28 years, Laura has enjoyed being a mom and a homeschool teacher. Their big family loves learning together and coming to the Challenger Learning Center has always been a highlight of that. It seems to have become a family tradition to work at CLCA. Her oldest son, Luke, was the IT Director for several years, and recently one of Laura’s daughters, Annie, was the Assistant Facility Director. Laura says she loves everything about being CLCA’s Administrative Assistant. “I get to work with an amazing team of very talented people who share the common goal of offering the very best in STEM learning and making it fun!” Laura’s life is often busy watching her children’s’ hockey games and dance classes, but when she gets a moment to herself you can find her relaxing on her deck enjoying chocolate.
Madi received her B.A. in Elementary Education in 2017 from Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. As she completed her degree, Madi combined her passion for teaching with her love of horses, as a riding instructor, and in 2018 she moved to Alaska to be able to help with family. She joined our team September 2019 and has delivered programming across all of Challenger’s varied platforms, from simulated missions to workshops, and now virtual programming. Her favorite thing about working here is the never-ending amount of knowledge she has the opportunity to gain and share in a hands-on manner with the upcoming generation. During her free time, Madi enjoys fishing, eating tasty foods, and working on her garden.
Living in Alaska the past thirty years, Jodie, her husband and three daughters keep very busy. Taking care of her family is what Jodie values the most. Jodie is a natural nurturer at heart, starting her career working in a nursing home and then as a camp counselor. Her career as a caregiver expanded when she moved to alaska, working for over thirty years with Hearts and Hands of Care; servicing children, senior citizens and special needs of all ages. Growing up in Minnesota, Jodie still loves camping in her free time with family and friends, and getting into a good book. Challenger has been blessed having JT as a Flight Director for over a decade. Her dedication and knowledge of science and space is greatly reflected in the classes she teaches. Her special talent is always being able to get kids to willingly participate in activities because she creates such a fun environment.
Greg Olcott was born in a small town in northern Vermont, before moving to Alaska in 1998, Olcott grew up on a dairy farm and eventually worked summers installing in-ground swimming pools. After high school Olcott attended Vermont Technical College for pre-tech courses and a year of electrical engineering. Deciding to change course Olcott then attended Southern Maine Technical College and received a degree in the HVACR trade. Olcott worked in a machine shop running and programming machines before finding his desired HVACR job. Seven years later in 1998, Olcott purchased land and relocated to Alaska where he resides to this date. Shortly after arriving in Alaska, Olcott acquired his construction/contracting license and had since been involved in the trade. Olcott has extensive knowledge in all aspects of construction, including estimating, designing and building. As an extreme outdoorsman and hunter, Olcott took his existing knowledge of safety and survival and expanded in 2010, acquiring necessary training and certifications to perform industry accepted Marine and Aviation safety training to cover a wide spectrum of oilfield and commercial fisherman and emergency services operations. Olcott has been involved in every aspect of building CSET operations at the Challenger Center, from instruction to administration to building clients relations and maintaining US and International relationships and certifications.
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Thank you for the support from our Board of Directors
Jake Arness Tim Dillon
Melissa Galloway Ron Hyde
Art Isham Nick Kellie Kurt Olson John Torgerson Charles Ward