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.
PedsAcademy is proud to welcome Dr. Karen Karp as a school advisory board member!
Dr. Karp, is a Professor at Johns Hopkins University where she works with doctoral students in the School of Education. She recently completed twenty-one years at the University of Louisville as a Distinguished Teaching Professor in Elementary Mathematics Education and is a Professor emeritus. She is the author or co-author of more than 25 books on elementary mathematics education including, Elementary and Middle School Mathematics Teaching Developmentally (with Van de Walle and Bay-Williams) and Teaching Student Centered Mathematics: Developmentally Appropriate Instruction. She authored more than 45 articles including “13 Rules that Expire,” in Teaching Children Mathematics with Bush and Dougherty which was named by the journal as article of the year in 2015. She is a former member of the Board of Directors of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and a former president of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators. In addition to Karen’s background as a certified elementary teacher and secondary mathematics teacher, she is a certified special education teacher.
Babe Ruth once said “it’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” These words rang through my thoughts as I was entering college working with the Special Olympics and kids who never gave up. This experience would change my academic and personal life forever. Working with children and coaching made me pivot my original plans of studying sports medicine. I was fortunate to get a job right out of college teaching a resource mathematics class for Mike Moses Middle School in Nacogdoches, Texas. At the same time, I entered a graduate program in school and behavioral psychology at Stephen F. Austin State University. This is where the research bug bit me! I only required a little nudging to make me want to chase a Ph.D at Utah State University and the Center for Persons with Disabilities.
My research, which has been continuously funded since 2008 with more than $12.25 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS), examines how K-12 and postsecondary students with disabilities can effectively learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content using innovative technologies.
This research has provided a foundation for the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute (TJEEI). In 2017, I was asked to become the Director of the TJEEI where we bring a convergence of interdisciplinary research, teaching, and service with a scholarly focus on individuals with disabilities and their families. The mission of the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute is to provide opportunities for lifelong learning and support for children and adults with exceptional needs and their families through interdisciplinary research and practice, professional development, and partner collaboration. We have funded several doctoral and postdoctoral positions and employ students with disabilities helping with research initiatives. In addition, we are able to support our local community by hiring students with disabilities from a local STEM high schools to complete internships with us. The partnership with PedsAcademy at Nemours has allowed a new and exciting opportunity to impact children and families at the world’s first pediatric school program designed to provide children in hospitals with extraordinary, research-backed educational opportunities specific to their respective disease or condition. Our team and I are committed and excited to help establish the PedsAcademy as the preeminent location for effective evidence-based practice and research.
It has been my privilege to work with children and their families for over 20 years as a pediatric physical therapist. My clinical experiences are rich and diverse as I have served children in many diverse settings including hospital, outpatient clinics, and home health. I have witnessed dramatic changes in health care. In addition, I have gained insights on the many challenges experienced by children and families navigating medical and developmental diagnoses. A passion for pediatric physical therapy and these new perspectives fueled my desire to explore innovative strategies to improve the lives of children. I was not only interested in how to serve children but where we serve them. I had worked with children in health care settings but what about educational settings? These questions led to me to pursue a doctorate in exceptional education. I hoped that the skills gained would help me bridge the medical and educational communities to improve the lives of children.
My journey in exploring new approaches led me to incredibly talented faculty with a shared passion. Dr. Nickels is one such faculty member. During our very first conversation, I was so impressed and inspired by her research on evidence-based education for children t disease tailored to their specific disease or condition. I also learned about PedsAcademy and I knew that I wanted to be involved in this very special initiative. PedsAcademy allows me to use both my medical and educational backgrounds to serve children and families in a unique way. I am collaborating with amazing and diverse faculty working towards a common goal of providing an extraordinary educational experience for children in the hospital. As pediatric therapist, I can identify potential challenges to learning and develop appropriate accommodations. In addition, I have the pleasure of teaching elementary education interns about the hospital setting and the different diagnoses that they may encounter. I continue to be so impressed with the students’ ability to create and teach lessons that allow a child in the hospital to engage in learning that is fun! Children are motivated and excited to learn despite the medical challenges they may face.
UCF PedsAcademy at Nemours is improving the lives of children. My time spent at PedsAcademy is rewarding beyond measure.