Santikos Micronaut Center for young children launches on SAC campus
May 18, 2023
Local schoolchildren can now travel to the International Space Station to perform scientific experiments after blasting off from the new John L. Santikos Micronaut Center at San Antonio College.
At least it will seem that way. The center is designed to simulate a space mission while igniting interest in science in children ages four to nine.
“It’s very hands-on, it’s innovative, and it gives them that experience of being an astronaut,” said Roxanne Barrera, coordinator of program development for the Scobee Education Center.
The Micronaut Center is designed to spark the imagination of young children with STEAM-focused activities (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). It’s the first of its kind in the country and is already serving as a model for other centers, Barrera said.
Upon arriving at the center, students put on space vests before entering a room modeled after a space shuttle. Once seated, a video monitor shows the spacecraft launching from the SAC campus, leaving the planet, and traveling to the ISS.
With their teacher acting as mission commander, the children exit into a space station-style room full of 12 hands-on, interactive science activities exploring geology, geography, physics, and other subjects. Many of the exhibits are bilingual. After completing their mission, they board the shuttle again to return to Earth.
The center caters to school groups and is currently hosting preschool and kindergarten classes (individual admission is not available at this time).
The Micronaut program was originally developed at the Challenger STEM Learning Center at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga in 2005. The program creates a “cradle-to-college” STEM pathway to give younger children experience with space and science.
SAC has offered the Micronaut program for young children at the Scobee Education Center’s Challenger Learning Center since 2015. Because the Challenger center is designed for students in grades six and up, staff would have to adapt the space to cater to young children for Micronauts programming.
A $500,000 grant from the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, a fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation, allowed SAC to develop a dedicated center designed for younger children. A team of local early childhood experts, educators and other community stakeholders planned the center concept and created the activities to serve young students.
The Micronaut Center is part of SAC’s Campus Revitalization Project. Bexar County voters approved a general obligation bond in 2017 that awarded $83 million to San Antonio College for improvements to existing facilities and the addition of new ones.
The Challenger Learning Center at Scobee Education Center is part of a global network of Challenger centers that use space-themed simulated learning and role-playing strategies to help students learn problem-solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork while inspiring students to develop STEM skills.
The Micronauts Center not only creates educational opportunities for younger students but also introduces younger children to the possibilities of STEM subjects and college.
“This starts inspiring them to consider STEM careers and also to give them the experience of being at the Challenger Center on a college campus,” Barrera said.