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Students Can Explore Space in Robertson County

Gateway STEM Center in Springfield provides a hands-on, STEM-focused learning experience that's out of this world.

By Kevin Litwin on May 6, 2022

Gateway STEM Center in Springfield, TN
Nathan Lambrecht

STEM and outer space come together at Gateway STEM Center, a nonprofit program that provides Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky youth with hands-on, space-themed activities aimed at increasing their interest in STEM.

The educational center in Springfield, TN, is open on occasional weeknights but mostly on weekends.

3 … 2 … 1 … Explore!

At Gateway STEM Center, students learn about space and astronomy as well as coding, robotics, electronics, drones and game design. Plus, they are able to take part in team-based experiences that use authentic simulators.

“I’m a space junkie interested in all the buzz and excitement currently happening with NASA and space these days, so I established Gateway in September 2019 and opened it in March 2020, but COVID delayed things until August 2020,” says Robert Dillard, founder of Gateway STEM Center.

“I have a background in technology and a fondness for all things STEM, so I wanted to bring entertaining and stimulating STEM activities to Springfield.”

Gateway STEM Center in Springfield, TN
Nathan Lambrecht

Training and Preparing

The center is also an official NASA ASTRO CAMP Community Partner – the only one in Tennessee – meaning the center hosts a weeklong camp during the summer for youth to learn about space travel from Earth to the moon to Mars and beyond.

“We live in a tech-centered world, so equipping kids with skills and capabilities is critical to their future success,” Dillard says. “One of our exciting projects is a mission launch space program that includes training and preparing for a simulated space shuttle mission. The center actually has a flight-deck simulator that is a full-scale replica. It was built and donated to Gateway by a former NASA employee.”

Dillard says many of the center’s programs are targeted to students in grades 4-8 to sharpen their STEM skills prior to entering high school. “My goal is for all the youth who participate in our STEM programs to be inspired about the possibilities for their great future,” he says.

Dillard adds that the center’s programs are open to all students, whether they live in Robertson County or places like Clarksville, Nashville, Brentwood, Murfreesboro, Spring Hill, Hopkinsville – you name it. “Yes, the excitement of space exploration and amazing science is for everyone – of all ages,” he says.

A Yes from Youth

Kids can’t get enough of all Gateway STEM Center has to offer, and Scott and Maria Thomas of Clarksville can attest to that fact.

“Our kids are participants in the center’s Lego League, where teams put together small robots and program them to compete by moving along an obstacle course, having them stop and go forward or backward, turning 90 degrees and much more,” Scott says. “Our kids love the whole experience of the Gateway Center, and we really like and appreciate Robert Dillard. He is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all the STEM-related programs available to children.”

Scott adds that their son and daughter also enjoy projects at the center that involve Scratch, a worldwide online coding community for kids that allows them to create digital stories, games and animations.

“In addition, both our kids are interested in the NASA ASTRO CAMP,” he says. “Gateway STEM Center is a fun and educational place for children. It’s ideal for kids who have any inkling of interest in anything related to STEM activities.”

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