Spilka, local officials praise McAuliffe Center after tour, planetarium show

Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), along with an entourage of local officials, visited the Christa McAuliffe Center on Monday as part of a day-long “listening tour” of the MetroWest area.

The tour was organized in order for the Legislature to check in on several educational sites, including MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and Newton High School, to discuss various state-wide issues. Also present were Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) and Framingham Town Manager Bob Halpin, among many others.

Upon arriving at the McAuliffe Center, the group was welcomed by President F. Javier Cevallos and Center Director Irene Porro and given a guided tour through the Center’s “Voyage to Mars” simulator room. Finally, the guests gathered in the planetarium and viewed a presentation highlighting the capabilities of the Center’s 30-foot dome and projection system.

Porro called Spilka’s visit an “opportunity to showcase what we are doing here.

“We benefited a lot,” Porro said, and called for more opportunities for legislators to experience first-hand the undergraduate role in STEM work on campus.

Spilka said that Massachusetts needs more students going into the STEM fields, and the McAuliffe Center is “a great resource for the state” to achieve this goal.

“It helps the university be more in tune with the state’s initiatives in this area,” she said.

When giving a speech following the planetarium show, Spilka emphasized the Center’s ability to engage future STEM students from early on and “get our kids ready for the 21st century.

“This is something where our kids are learning STEM in a really fun way,” she said. “Kids of all ages can enjoy being here. … I can honestly say I know a few kids who went into the STEM fields and can trace being here as the originating thought.

“Who doesn’t enjoy a planetarium,” she added.

Spilka acknowledged her fellow senators and local officials present at the event and their role in supporting the funding to keep STEM initiatives going strong.

“It’s a good sign that they wanted to come here,” Porro said of the Legislature, noting the large number of senators who were able to attend. She said that STEM in Massachusetts is in an “interesting” and “critical” phase.

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Linda Vaden-Goad said that Spilka is a “powerful advocate” for progress in Massachusetts.

“We are so lucky she is here,” she added.

Cevallos said that STEM fields are “essential for the economy of the state.

“Visiting the McAuliffe Center was a way to show their support for education in those fields,” Cevallos said of the senators, whose visit “highlighted the importance higher education has for Massachusetts.”

He said that the McAuliffe center is “a wonderful resource for the Commonwealth, as it brings thousands of middle school students every year to campus to have a hands-on experience with the way science works.”

The MetroWest tour was only one episode in the Commonwealth Conversations event series, aimed at “bringing Beacon Hill to you,” as described on the Massachusetts Legislature’s Web site.

The tour brought legislators around the North and South Shores in late February, and then throughout the Boston Metro area on Wednesday. Topics discussed at the various stops included STEM initiatives as well as improvements in public transportation, community development and job growth.

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