Every engineer, scientist, doctor, nurse, technician and mathematician can point to a person, place or event that prompted her or him to embark on a fascinating journey that led to an exciting, meaningful career. Invariably, achieving that goal involved critical assistance of some kind-encouragement, motivation and, more than likely, a financial kick-start.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) recently provided a tremendous “kick-start” for hundreds of public school students in Aurora and Falcon, Colorado, by donating $25,000 to the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado. The grant will support the Center’s delivery of Earth-science and space-focused distance-learning programs to schools serving an ethnically diverse population, including military families living near Buckley, Schriever and Peterson Air Force bases.

“It’s extremely gratifying to have a top-tier company like United Launch Alliance step up and take such an active, positive role in building the next-generation aerospace and defense workforce,” said Tracey Tomme, President/CEO of the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado. “We’re absolutely thrilled to have ULA as our partner!”

The ULA donation will provide about 12 Operation Montserrat missions for 7th-grade students at Falcon’s Skyview Middle School. Students emulating Earth Systems Science experts will use computers, satellite images and the Internet to predict the impacts of a fictional hurricane and volcanic-rock movements on Montserrat’s inhabitants and environment.

Similarly, the ULA grant will fund 30 Moon, Mars and Beyond missions for Aurora 4th-grade students throughout the school year. Via Internet links, each distance-learning mission will give 25-30 students the vicarious experience of working together as a Mars-based team to rescue missing astronauts, who are exploring the outer fringes of our solar system.

“Because [students] are able to apply what they learn in a “real-life'” situation, they are able to retain the knowledge,” explained Lori Martin, a Fourth Grade teacher at Aurora’s Fletcher Intermediate School of Science and Technology. “During the mission, every student is focused on the job and working with the entire team.”

These well-structured “e-Missions” are proven vehicles for motivating students by demonstrating-through hands-on experiences-the power of math and science to save lives. Such opportunities to apply critical-thinking skills to realistic, time-sensitive problems often trigger a student’s decision to pursue a career in science and technology.

“United Launch Alliance is committed to a robust corporate citizenship program that targets the need to excite our next generation of engineers and rocket scientists,” said Michael C. Gass, ULA President and Chief Executive Officer. “We have a national crisis in not inspiring enough of our young people to pursue careers in science and technology. Together with the Challenger Learning Center, ULA is working to address this challenge by supporting STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] programs and mobilizing our workforce to help make a difference in our community.” United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, provides Atlas and Delta launch vehicles in support of U.S. space programs.