AAI Announces the Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction and the Speculative Imagination

The Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI) at the University of Kansas today announced its newest center, the Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction and Speculative Imagination.

Led by Director Chris McKitterick, the Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction and the Speculative Imagination brings writers, readers, scholars, educators, and fans of speculative fiction together to study and create work that changes the world.

“Science fiction is a bridge between STEM and the arts,” said McKitterick. “There’s a powerful feedback relationship between the two areas—science and tech inspiring writers and artists, and SF inspiring engineers and scientists.”

In McKitterick’s view—one shared by many scholars and practitioners of the genre—science fiction offers a path to engage with interesting, inspiring, and difficult questions about humanity.

“Science fiction is a mode of inquiry. In much the way a scientist or researcher tests a hypothesis, at its core, science fiction imagines changed conditions and other variables, then lets the experiment play out in an engaging narrative,” McKitterick said.

The Center initially plans to focus on interdisciplinary workshops, masterclasses, courses, seminars, and other opportunities, using speculative fiction as a powerful tool to enrich artistic and scientific creativity—bringing STEAM to STEM while deepening SF creators’ understanding of diverse disciplines. The Center aims to serve as an inspirational nexus for creatives, fans, scholars, engineers, and scientists as they chart their journey into the future.

In leading the Center, McKitterick draws on considerable experience as an award-winning author and scholar of speculative fiction. He’s also a popular speaker who has for decades taught SF and writing at the University of Kansas and beyond.

For AAI Director and University Distinguished Professor Dr. Neal Kingston, the Ad Astra Center builds on the mission of the Achievement & Assessment Institute while expanding its scope.

“AAI and its centers work in many different fields, some very technical. At the heart of all of our centers, however, is a commitment to equity and imagining different futures. Art and humanities—especially speculative fiction in this case—is a great complement to the research our other centers conduct.”

AAI was established in 2012 through the merger of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation and the Institute for Educational Research and Public Services. Both organizations set the Institute’s foundation to successfully build partnerships and programs that support the achievement of children adults, and publicly funded agencies. In 2013, AAI was recognized by KU’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies as a designated university institute.

Reflecting the Achievement & Assessment’s growth and evolution, the Ad Astra Center is the second new center to be announced in 2021. In January, AAI announced the creation of Center for Certification & Competency-Based Education (C3BE), which focuses on credentialing existing knowledge and shorter pathways for additional certification of skills for employers.

“With the addition of the Ad Astra Center, AAI continues to expand its vision. We are able to see—with a wider view—how our many areas of research interact and intersect,” said Kingston.

[Based on a press release.]

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