Canfield

Feb 25, 2021 | Greg Canfield

The Enduring Value of Space Camp

As Alabama’s Commerce Secretary, I know how critically important it is for us to prepare our school children for the careers of the future, including rewarding ones in STEM fields. It’s no secret that occupations in science, technology, engineering and math pay big rewards in terms of higher-than-average pay and upward mobility. That’s why it is vital that pathways to STEM careers are available to young people across Alabama. One of the most successful and durable is the Space Camp program at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Launched in 1982, Space Camp instantly became a pioneering effort to encourage youngsters to explore careers in STEM fields — long before the commonly used acronym had even been coined. From the start, Space Camp’s mission has been to create excitement, introduce possibilities and stimulate imagination in the minds of young people. In so doing, Space Camp became one of the first workforce development pipeline programs in Alabama to support STEM fields.

Thanks to Space Camp and other educational programs, the Space & Rocket Center has been a remarkable asset for the state and its young people. The Rocket Center’s doors opened in 1970, meaning its 50th anniversary went largely unnoticed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Because the Rocket Center did not qualify for government assistance, the pandemic delivered a painful financial blow; thankfully, generous donors stepped in to help.) After Space Camp, the Rocket Center launched the Aviation Challenge and Robotics Camp, programs that also capture the curiosity of young people and act as a STEM career pathway. The Rocket Center is currently involved in the planning of a new building to support U.S. Cyber Camp, a program based on the Space Camp model that raises awareness of degrees and careers in cybersecurity. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey backed this effort with a $10 million grant, underscoring the significance of this occupational field.

Over the years, thousands of Alabama school children have joined other youngsters from around the U.S. and the world for the stimulating activities at Space Camp. For these kids, the program has been loads of fun, but it has also served a deeper, more long-lasting function. Throughout its history, Space Camp has inspired dreams and encouraged the next generation of thinkers to pursue goals that might have gone unimagined, to explore opportunities that might have gone undetected. I believe that is the enduring value of the Space Camp program, and I look forward to seeing it continue to launch countless voyages of discovery.

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Greg Canfield is Secretary of Commerce for the State of Alabama

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