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  • Credit: Keith Meyers of the New York Times
01/29/2016 09:21:44

Have Courage

How the Challenger disaster inspired Caltech alumnus Gregg Wright (BS '69) to honor courage and excellence in education

Gregg Wright (BS '69) wrote in the Winter 2015 issue of E&S magazine about how Christa McAuliffe's death on the space shuttle Challenger inspired him to honor courage and excellence in education. On the 30th anniversary of the disaster, his comments are especially relevant. An excerpt follows here.

I was working at the [Nebraska] health department when the space shuttle Challenger blew up, killing a crew that included Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire high school teacher chosen to be the first "teacher in space."

Because of my work in public schools, I was particularly touched by the death of that courageous teacher. In what I count as the best impulse of my life, I donated some money to begin a Nebraska Christa McAuliffe Prize for Courage and Excellence in Education—a way to honor the many courageous teachers I had worked with from Pasadena to Galveston.

With the help of many other donors, we have now awarded 29 excellent Nebraska teachers each a $1,000 prize—one each year since the Challenger disaster. These teachers have each demonstrated an important form of courage in their professional lives.

For example, some of our winners stood up for what was right even when others refused to do so. This includes a teacher who publicly championed the cause of "dream generation" students when nearby communities were trying to expel them, and another who jumped into a highly controversial, local low-level nuclear waste issue to help his students learn the physics of radiation—despite his principal's urging against engaging the controversy. Other winners did what was right even when it was hard.

But courage is an elusive concept. Before our experience rewarding excellent teachers for their courage, we did not have a clear idea of what makes a teacher courageous. We knew that Christa McAuliffe was courageous, boarding the Challenger in order to take America's students on the ultimate field trip. But we couldn't have known about the many forms of courage our winners have demonstrated.

Read the complete essay by Wright on the E&S Website.