PedsAcademy Featured in the New York Times

PedsAcademy is honored to be included in the the NYT’s Bulletin Board section on learning. Follow the link to read the full story!

Meet Undergraduate Student Researcher Jacob Hromyak

Hello, my name is Jacob Hromyak and I am currently a Junior studying Biomedical Sciences and part of the Coastal Estuarine & Ecology Lab with Dr. Linda Walters in Biology Department. Since joining the lab in the Fall of 2018, I have gained a great amount of passion for the field of conservation and even more so for the study of birds, leading to my current independent study of wading bird diversity and abundance in Mosquito Lagoon. This study is done to examine the ecological role of bird species as biological indicators and how changes in bird diversity, abundance, and activity can give rise to environmental changes in Mosquito Lagoon. An added element of this study is to assist children at PedsAcademy as they engage in their own analysis of bird diversity.

Back in December Dr. Walters and Dr. Nickels gave me the opportunity to combine my research and future career together, as an aspiring orthopedic surgeon. With this, we found an innovative way to involve children as citizen-scientists in this project, hoping to both benefit their well-being and contribute to regional environmental protection. At the time I didn’t realize how much PedsAcademy would impact my life, not just as an undergraduate researcher but as a human being. My time at Nemours is spent bedside with children educating them on the importance of Mosquito Lagoon as an estuary and the roles of bird as keystone species and allowing them to embark on this research with me and play the part of an expert ornithologist. Upon introducing myself to children and their families I urge that their assistance on this project is needed and make it a point that their contributions are important. However, there is a much bigger picture in mind in that each child feels included and a part of society despite of the everyday challenges and obstacles they may face. Their help in my study serves as an educational platform where these children have a unique experience to learn about surrounding ecosystems through literature resources and ornithology identifying technology. In the short amount of time spent with each child I strive to educate them on the importance of birds, proper identification of bird species and activity, and elements of research.

As I continue this research, I will further look at creative ways to get children involved such as through robotics, Legos, and animated books written by Dr. Walters herself. Since beginning this project with PedsAcademy, I have worked with individuals from diverse backgrounds and had the privilege to be a part of the first ever program geared towards providing schooling to the chronically ill. With each encounter a new lesson was learned, I quickly realized that this was not only a life experience for each child but one for me as well, an experience I will always cherish and be grateful for. This experience has given me access one-on-one patient interaction, knowledge of pediatrics, and exposure to education in a hospital care setting. Throughout this experience I have found myself to be more well-suited, and aid in my personal growth, more importantly being an eye-opening experience and raising awareness about the effects of pediatric illnesses. I know that as I apply to medical schools this summer and become an orthopedic surgeon all of these lessons in this program will prepare for anything this future career has in store.

Meet Intern Jessica Doyle

Hello, my name is Jessica Doyle and I am a senior at UCF who is graduating soon with my degree in Elementary Education.

In order to give you a full glimpse of my journey with PedsAcademy, I have to start in August of 2016. It was then that my mom was diagnosed with stage four liver cancer. It was a sudden shock and a blow to my family. She immediately started weekly chemo treatment at a hospital in Tampa. While she went there for chemotherapy what she ended up finding was a hospital staff that was encouraging, supportive, and saw her through some of the darkest days that she had yet faced. It was that experience that inspired me to apply when I heard about the opportunity to join PedsAcademy. I saw it as a chance to be the support and encouragement that I knew from experience is so vital in a hospital setting.

I remember being nervous the first couple days…I was not sure if school would be a priority or something that the kids would even want to do. Yet, what I found out was that they were more than happy to do it, and they often looked forward to it. There many times where I would be standing in the elevator with one of our Dash robots, when a patient would get in and excitedly ask me if I was coming to their room next. There were other times where I would step into a patient’s room, knowing little about them, only to find out that the lesson I had prepared was on a topic that they loved. And to add on to that, as our new PedsAcademy classroom opened up, we found that there are kids are requesting to come in- sometimes several times in one day. What I recognized is that PedsAcademy was bringing a sense of exploration and excitement to education. But in an even bigger sense, it was bringing normalcy back to the kids lives, and a bit of stability in a setting that was ever-changing and often times scary. What I also found was that not only were the kids excited, but so were the parents. Many seemed relieved as their child’s education was another thing for them to worry about along with their health. Often times I saw tears of gratefulness and received hugs of appreciation. It made me realize that children in hospitals are in many ways a forgotten demographic and are often neglected by the academic world. PedsAcademy has decided to step up to the plate to not only recognize the need, but to meet the need and I was grateful to be apart of the process that met those needs.

Little did I know, though, just how much that process would have an impact on me. As I said before, I knew this was an amazing opportunity and I was eager to help the patients in the hospital learn. Yet what I could not have predicted was how brave, genuine, eager to learn, and happy these kids were in the midst of so much pain, hardship, and confusion and how much they would teach me in return. It was truly inspiring in more ways than I could even imagine. There were many times where I would step out of a room and have to take a moment to pause and reflect on the experience I just had and the resilience of the children and their families. These opportunities were so unique and were possible because of the resources, technology, and people who were willing to make it happen.

PedsAcademy gave me a humbling opportunity to serve and grow not only as a future teacher and current student, but as a person. I am walking away with invaluable knowledge that will affect the way I teach and treat not only my students and their families, but the people around me. It has helped to widen my horizon when it comes to how I view the world and I am so grateful for it all.

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.