Sometime after Lindsey Palm graduates this month — soon after UCF’s virtual commencement ceremony and her celebration with her COVID bubble — she plans to find a moment of quiet in her home to sit at her laptop and start an email.

Even though it will sit in an inbox unread for the next 16 years and 8 months, she’ll write all about the wonderful, miraculous chaos that has marked the last year-and-a-half of her college experience, and how it made her even more determined to obtain her bachelor’s in elementary education.

On her son Brayden’s 18th birthday, she’ll hand over the password to the account she created for him where he will discover moments from his childhood captured in photos, videos and emails, including this momentous milestone they shared together.

“In the beginning, I had a mindset of I needed this degree to get the job that I wanted, and then when I found out I was pregnant, there was going to be nothing that stopped me from getting my degree,” she says. “It [the pregnancy] threw a curve ball in my life, but I think it motivated me more.”

Parenthood to PedsAcademy

Palm wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. As a teenager growing up in St. Cloud, she babysat, nannied and tutored children, and set her sights on getting the college degree her parents never did.

She enrolled in the DirectConnect to UCF program at Valencia College and arrived at UCF in 2018. By that December, she found out she was pregnant. She made it through the spring and summer A sessions before her son was born in August 2019. She took off the fall semester and enrolled in a full schedule of courses for Spring 2020.

She says childcare and time management were a constant struggle, but her husband and extended family were as committed to Palm earning her degree as she was and helped watch Brayden when she needed to get schoolwork done. In a way, becoming a mother helped prepare her for her future profession and her last semester as an intern at UCF’s PedsAcademy at Nemours Children’s Hospital.

“Everything I thought I knew about kids went out the window when I became a parent,” she says. “I think the biggest thing I learned was how everything is so unexpected. I think with working in a hospital, it’s the same thing. You don’t know what to expect and you just have to be able to adapt and transition into the next thing without looking back. I think having him helped me a lot with that.”

Lindsey Palm sits at the bedside of a young patient in the hospital
As part of her internship with PedsAcademy, Lindsey Palm worked to schedule sessions with her students between their doctor visits and therapy.
Teaching Moments

Her experience with PedsAcademy made a profound impact on her career aspirations. The pediatric school program is a collaboration between UCF faculty and student teachers and Nemours staff that aims to keep patients engaged academically during their hospitalization through a variety of innovative educational technology tools, including the use of robotics, augmented/virtual reality and 3D printing.

Palm spent six weeks in online modules to learn about the technology she would use with the patients later in the semester. To accommodate COVID protocols, she worked one full day a week at Nemours once face-to-face visits started.

On site, she was assigned a list of patients and worked to schedule sessions with her students between their doctor visits and therapy.

“These kids are in the hospital, which can be stressful and scary, but they would get so excited when we walked into the room,” she says. “It made me realize that this is what I want to do. I remember this day I had with one young girl. We read a story and then we started playing with the robot — she had to launch a ball, and I made up a point system for her. We were adding up the points and she looked at me and she said, ‘I get it!’ I said, ‘What do you get?’ She said, ‘We’re doing reading and math.’ She was so excited and proud of herself that she was learning reading and math. It was awesome to see her connect it all together.”

Rebeca Grysko, school program director for PedsAcademy, says Palm’s kind and supportive demeanor combined with the knowledge she gained from her internship will make her better prepared for her future as an educator.

“Lindsey is positive, willing to work hard and demonstrates all the characteristics of a reflective, competent and caring educator,” Grysko says. “She displays a high level of professionalism, as well as flexibility, adaptability and initiative. I am pleased and proud of the personal and professional growth that Lindsey demonstrated throughout the semester.”

Palm hopes that an assistant position will open up so she has a chance to apply to stay involved with the program. In the meantime, she’s planning to find a job and save up money for childcare so that she can work to get certified as a child life specialist — a healthcare professional who provides additional support by focusing on the mental, emotional and social needs of their patients, rather than their physical health — and of course, continue to care for her family.

She encourages other parents, especially young mothers, to chase after any dream they have.

“I hope there are moms out there, especially young moms, who feel like they can accomplish whatever they want and reach their goals,” she says.