Sick children confined to hospitals miss not only the experience of classroom teaching, but grade school traditions like the science fair.
So, on Thursday, the science fair came to them — thanks to the help of UCF faculty and students — in the form of the first-ever STEM Day at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando. Poster boards detailing projects as varied as fish prosthetics and bouncing marbles were on display in the hospital’s lobby, each awaiting the arrival of a special panel of guest judges.
Thursday’s event was put on by UCF PedsAcademy at Nemours, which provides highly specialized schooling to chronically ill children in a way that’s tailored to their specific disease. STEM Day wrapped up the first academic year of PedsAcademy, which launched in August 2018. The program is run by about 50 UCF faculty members, student researchers, postdoctoral scholars and student interns who specialize in mathematics, engineering, science, the humanities and special education. Megan Nickels, Ph.D., an assistant professor of STEM education, heads the program.
“Every school needs a science fair. We wanted to give the kids center stage so everyone can see their good work.” — Megan Nickels, UCF assistant professor and PedsAcademy faculty director
“Every school needs a science fair,” Nickels says. “We wanted to give the kids center stage so everyone can see their good work.”
The lobby of the Lake Nona hospital also hosted labs from across the university, enticing children with opportunities to touch sea turtle shells, get up close with bugs and learn how muscles generate electricity.
August Terry, 10, was captivated by the crabs brought by the Coastal and Estuarine Ecology Lab. She completed three projects for the science fair: one on silicone in paint; another with a 3D-printed replica of the Castillo De San Marcos fort in St. Augustine; and a third exploring the best materials for building bridges.
Terry, who is still undergoing treatment for bone cancer, won an award for “most likely to change the world.”
Terry’s St. Augustine project was particularly special to her, as she was unable to attend her fourth-grade field trip to St. Augustine because of her illness.
“I can’t put a price on it,” says her mother, Wendy. “PedsAcademy has made hospital visits something August actually looks forward to.”
One of the judges was Katie Seymour, wife of Interim President Thad Seymour. She had high praise for the tailored, one-on-one instruction PedsAcademy offers children on a daily basis at the hospital.
“I love seeing the spark in each of these children,” she says.