Dr. Gregg Wright, associate professor at UNL's Center on Children, Family and the Law, established the award in 1986 as he and his young children followed the Challenger mission closely. Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, was aboard the space shuttle. Wright recalls, "We had talked at breakfast for the week before the launch about the teacher who was going to fly in space. So when the explosion happened, it had a big impact on my family and on me."
Wright had worked in schools throughout his career and always knew that teachers were undervalued. Seeing McAuliffe on the space shuttle that day helped him to realize how important courage is to teaching. "After the accident, I wanted to do something for the teachers," said Wright. With the help of the University Foundation, the prize to award courageous Nebraska teachers began to take shape.
The prize is awarded annually in the spring to teachers who exemplify the character of Ms. McAuliffe--excellence, commitment, creativity, the ability to inspire and courage. Its continuance is ensured by a number of generous gifts and contributions. The Lincoln Journal Star, for example, donated the proceeds of the sale of a drawing created by Paul Fell in the memory of Ms. McAuliffe. Other contributors include the Flavel Wright family, Rocke Huntington, State Farm Insurance, the Nebraska State Education Association, College of Education and Human Sciences, Don Spinar of A. G. Edwards Sons, and Mildred and Melvin Mobley, and many others
Donations to the fund may be made by sending a check to University of Nebraska Foundation, 1010 Lincoln Mall, Suite 300, Lincoln, Nebraska 68508 with the notation "For the Christa McAuliffe Prize Fund #3481"