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Caterpillar helps send Livingston Co. kids on virtual Challenger Learning Center missions

December 8, 2020

Restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic have kept a number of kids out of the classroom this fall, but thanks to Heartland Community College and Caterpillar Inc., some Livingston County students will explore outer space.

Earlier this year, a grant from the Caterpillar Inc. manufacturing facility in Pontiac was set to provide hundreds of middle school students a hands-on learning mission at Heartland’s Challenger Learning Center (CLC). But after COVID-19 prompted restrictions that put many of this fall’s classroom operations in a state of uncertainty, the CLC became closed to in-person missions.

Now – through some creativity and coordination – for the remainder of this school year, students will be experiencing virtual missions, developing vital STEM skills, and learning what it takes to be an astronaut.

The first of the Caterpillar-funded virtual missions sent Tri Point students into space (remotely) in early November. Before the end of the year, over 150 additional students from Prairie Central schools will embark on a virtual mission.

In partnership with the Heartland Community College (HCC) Foundation, Caterpillar committed to funding Livingston County students in 5th through 8th grade to participate in a learning experience at the CLC. With a minimum five-year commitment from Caterpillar, more than 2,500 students will benefit from funded science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experiences either virtually or in-person when restrictions are lifted.

In the summer of 2019, Caterpillar’s Pontiac facility’s Scoring FORE Scholarships golf outing raised over $68,000 to fund educational opportunities for students in Livingston County. Since its start in 2006, the outing has raised more than $500,000 to foster learning opportunities including 56 Heartland Community College scholarships for Livingston County students.

“Seeing how the proceeds from our golf outing are helping local students pursue their educational dreams inspired our team to ask how else we can partner with Heartland to make a difference in our community,” said Dave Viebrock, facility manager of the Caterpillar plant in Pontiac. “The Challenger Learning Center partnership is helping to introduce the young people to the exciting opportunities that a career in engineering and manufacturing can offer – which is great for the future of both Livingston County and Caterpillar.” 

“Caterpillar continues to be an amazing partner in our community and in supporting our local students,” said HCC Foundation Executive Director Chris Downing. “The support Caterpillar provides will promote the development of STEM skills for young people, and that really pays off for a community looking for the problem solvers and leaders of tomorrow.” 

Located in the Astroth Community Education Center, the CLC provides STEM learning experiences for grades K-8 virtually and in person in addition to camps, summer programs, corporate programs and other public events.

Written by: Steve Fast