by Keaton S. Ziem, Digital Strategy & Business Intelligence, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges guidebook, an annual ranking of nearly 1,800 accredited four-year schools in the United States, has ranked Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott Campus’ Aerospace / Aeronautical / Astronomical Engineering Program No. 1 in the nation in its 2018 edition.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has been an integral part of the Prescott community since its establishment in 1978, nearly 40 years ago. Ever since, Prescott and Embry-Riddle have become home to tomorrow’s leaders in aviation and formed a reputation for excellence in the skies. Yet, since its beginning, Embry-Riddle has refused to rest upon its laurels, challenging itself and its curriculum to forge new standards of excellence in industries reaching beyond aviation. In 2012, the university revealed its vision for a new, state-of-the-art Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) based learning center that would not only revolutionize Embry-Riddle, but its Prescott home and the surrounding Quad-City area as well.

Incoming students of the 2017 fall semester will be the first to see, experience and utilize Embry-Riddle’s newest state-of-the-art campus facility: The STEM Education Center.

“Our university is now truly a STEM university. While we will never leave our deep aviation and engineering roots, we have expanded our offerings to include degrees in the sciences and technology,” said Dr. Frank Ayers, Chancellor of Embry-Riddle’s Prescott campus. “We are so pleased to have raised funds from our friends in the local community, and across the aerospace industries that we support, to aid in the construction.”

The STEM Education Center will provide students and educators with the tools necessary to impart curriculum to a new generation of blossoming scientific minds. With the final touches to the building’s interior taking place, students and campus leadership are eagerly anticipating the center’s grand opening, which will officially establish the facility as the only one of its kind in Northern Arizona.

The two-story building covers 52,000 square feet of space and contains over 20 industry-grade laboratories, replete with innovative technological equipment unique to each STEM program the university offers. Besides engineering programs, the STEM Center’s facilities support degrees in astronomy, forensic biology, space physics, wildlife science and the new bachelor’s degree in simulations science, gaming and animation.

The $22 million center also includes the community-friendly Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium—the only Arizona planetarium north of Phoenix—capable of seating 125 students and visitors for captivating explorations into the furthest reaches of the universe in full 360-degree high definition.

“The Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium will delight students and residents alike with a variety of presentations,” Ayers said. “It is much more than a planetarium, containing multimedia learning software that can display full-dome planetarium features that explore the planets and look into the complexity of the human body or modern spacecraft design. We will be learning about all of its capabilities this year and it will soon be open to the public.”

The STEM Center’s completion comes at an exciting time for Embry-Riddle, highlighting a period of extraordinary growth in student enrollment, which has approached an all-time high of 2,600 students and prompting campus infrastructure investments in excess of $45 million. These investments have included a new residence hall on the southern edge of campus and an expanded, updated Eagle Athletic Complex—where the Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Women’s Volleyball and Wrestling teams compete in the CAL PAC conference.

These facilities combined with the existing campus observatory complex—recently rated No. 8 in the nation among the top 35 Best College Observatories—ensure that Embry-Riddle will continue to thrive as an institution for scholarship and research for years to come.

With the increase of student enrollment comes the potential for amplified community involvement and economic growth to the Prescott area. Embry-Riddle draws its student body from all 50 states and dozens of foreign nations, resulting in an incredibly diverse campus that recognizes Prescott’s small- town appeal. It is here that students develop the academic foundations of their future professional careers while becoming active members of the community before graduation.

These students’ arrival to Prescott generates a positive economic impact of $278 million annually, affecting the entire community in both direct and indirect spending. This influences Quad-City business owners in a myriad of ways, including a demand for off-campus student housing, local restaurants, grocery stores, service stations, hotels and other retail merchants. As Embry-Riddle continues to produce an increased demand for STEM-based industries in Prescott, the University’s growth could signal long-term economic development in the area for decades.

The conception of ERAU’s STEM Center has always carried with it the intention of serving a wider audience than just students and faculty. Between its impressive lab facilities and remarkable planetarium, the STEM Center will become an invaluable resource for local middle and high schools, as well as an epicenter for community engagement events year-round. This research-rich campus environment is capable of influencing local students and underrepresented groups in the community, who previously had little-to-no access to STEM-based curriculum—such as young women and minorities—by exposing them to the possibilities of careers in high-paying professions that might have otherwise been unattainable.

“As a native Prescottonian and ERAU employee of 19 years, the opportunity to further the connection between Embry-Riddle and Prescott is very exciting!” said Andy Fraher, Director of STEM Outreach. “To have Embry-Riddle’s world-class academic program here in Prescott is amazing—add to that the social, cultural, and athletic events, along with events planned for the Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium for the public, this facility will undoubtedly deepen the bond between Embry-Riddle and Prescott.”

In 2018, Embry-Riddle celebrates its 40th anniversary in Prescott, during which time both have collaborated in the development, cultivation, and enrichment of thousands of students who have, at one time or another, called Prescott their home. Just as Embry-Riddle has continued to challenge itself and utilize the newest technology and training techniques for the benefit of its students, so has it sought to strengthen the bond between its campus and the Prescott community. The deepening of this partnership is vital to the fulfillment of Embry-Riddle’s mission: to prepare the next generation of leaders with a value-driven, globally aware academic foundation, comprised of strong technical, human relations and conceptual skills needed for success in business and public administration—across the Prescott community, within state of Arizona and around the world.


As Arizona’s premier STEM University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University designed and constructed the STEM Education Center to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics to life for its students and community. To help students achieve their greatest potential, the STEM Education Center required industry-grade laboratories, workshops and studios worthy of the brilliant scholars who would use them. A few of the most exciting new laboratories at Embry-Riddle include:

  • The Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium features a state-of-the-art dome theater and powerful digital projection system that allows for presentations of NASA’s library of shared content and 3-D universe exhibitions. Soon to be open to the public, the planetarium and theater will illuminate the universe to viewers with stunning clarity, and will be prominently featured through media and educational outlets within the local area and beyond.
  • The Cavendish Lab provides students with the ability to research and experiment with exotic propulsion systems, including the study of matter and antimatter interactions, which could ultimately be used to revolutionize deep space travel.
  • The LIGO Optics Lab allows students to investigate and identify the ‘physics reach’ of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detectors and their search for Gravitational Waves—a key indicator in the identification and study of black holes.
  • Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Duva Robotics Lab supports multiple courses, labs and studies in the ever-growing field of robotics engineering and programming. The lab features indoor and outdoor testing areas, and will enable the development of stationary, mobile and aerial robotic systems.
  • The Energy and Thermo-Fluids Lab is where students study how thermos-fluid phenomena work and how it affects engineering design. The energy labs provide experience with standard and green energy experiments. A connected portion of the lab will house an outside energy yard that allows students to experiment with energy harvesting devices.
  • The Raisbeck Engineering Design Studio supports mechanical engineering and multi-disciplinary design courses, creating a realistic team-based capstone design experience for all students in each stage of the design process, from conception and assembly to testing and operation.
  • The Space Grant Lab will support the students’ work on group projects, including our payloads from cube satellites and high-altitude scientific ballooning missions. The lab also includes a cleanroom for continued payload and instrument development.
  • The Keickhefer Foundation Forensic Lab empowers students with industry-grade forensic biology equipment. Studies in this lab include sampling and analysis of DNA evidence and blood types, polymerase chain reactions (PCR), genetic sequencing, microscopy techniques, biochemical analysis of body fluids and environmental contaminants, anatomy and physiology, as well as microbial identification.
  • Margaret Morris Foundation Wildlife Science Lab prepares wildlife professionals to study animals, their habitats and their ecosystems. This lab will be used for ecology, ornithology, mammalogy, and plant identification courses, which aid graduates in dealing with the management of wildlife issues in urban, rural and airport settings.