Meet School Board Member JoAnn Newman

I have worked for two companies over the course of my career. My first career was with AT&T in a semiconductor manufacturing facility. In the early years I worked as an engineer and then over the course of my career I was promoted into various leadership roles. I became the VP of Manufacturing at the peak, with responsibility for two clean room manufacturing operations, a portion of the engineering teams and 650 employees. When we closed the location, I was looking for an opportunity to stay in the area and to become more involved with the community. I cared deeply about STEM education especially for underrepresented groups.

I found the answer in a position at Orlando Science Center as the director of exhibits and operations where I was able to combine my professional skills with my interests in education and community service. My time with the Science Center has been fulfilling and action-packed. There is never a dull moment. I’ve had many incredible opportunities for growth and impact and was honored to become the Science Center’s president and CEO in 2009.

During my time here, the Science Center has been focused on providing iconic learning experiences for everyone in our community. Our mission is to inspire science learning for life. I like to tell people that we are in the inspiration business because the spark of curiosity that is lit within our experiences can become a beacon to light the way for untold innovation in the future. The Science Center needs to be available to everyone and this is one of the reasons that we make access a priority.

Dr. Megan Nickels invited me to join the PedsAcademy Board because of our partnership on an ongoing NASA grant to bring planetary science activities to area children’s hospitals. We both share a passion for educating children and a desire to break down barriers to access so I knew that I couldn’t pass on the chance to be involved. I bring a unique perspective to PedsAcademy since my background is with informal science learning and creating engaging experiences that stimulate curiosity and learning by showing real world applications of STEM.

Our grant with NASA is helping the Science Center to develop hands-on STEM activities for hospitalized children. Inspired by Megan’s initial outreach, together we are working with the planetary scientists at University of Central Florida to create a rich curriculum around actual NASA missions. My team has developed a series of hands-on activities that engage young patients with launching rockets, programing robots, and analyzing data from asteroid samples. By presenting these lessons in a real-world context, it makes the learning much more relevant and memorable. The goal is to continue to stimulate curiosity for young students enduring extended hospital stays.

I feel that my involvement with PedsAcademy is a wonderful compliment to my role at Orlando Science Center. I am benefiting from the expertise from both sides and our collaboration helps us to inspire science learning for life. We are helping young people at a very vulnerable time in their lives and together, we are bringing innovative curriculum and methods to help them succeed in school and in life.