2018 Excellence in Education: Education Inspiration
As part of our 2018 Excellence in Education honors, we talk with three Ohio educators on this year’s list about how they teach their students both inside and outside the classroom.
See the entire list of the 2018 Excellence in Education honorees here.
Magic of Science
Regan Silvestri, associate professor of chemistry at Lorain County Community College, has found there isn’t much difference between being a chemistry professor and a drummer in a punk rock band. This may be because Silvestri is not your typical chemistry professor. In addition to his classroom work with students, he’s also the brain behind the explosive one-man show “Magical Science.”
“I stand in front of an audience, entertain, inspire and motivate,” says the former drummer who toured and recorded full time for 10 years before teaching with the Peace Corps and then later at Lorain County Community College. Combining a passion for science and performance, Silvestri began his magic show in 2009 to demonstrate to his students the accessibility and excitement of science. Almost 10 years later, he has performed 181 times in front of more than 22,000 people, ranging from prekindergarten students to chemistry professionals at the American Chemical Society.
“As a community college, we are tasked with making education accessible to the entire community,” says Silvestri. “Offering the science magic show as an outreach program is our way of being out in the community as opposed to sitting in our offices on campus.”
As he tours northeast Ohio, Silvestri embraces creativity in his outrageous show by making gummy bears disappear and balancing himself on wine glasses.
“I remember a young student in the audience at one of my magic shows in Akron a few years ago,” recalls Silvestri. “Following the show she said to me: ‘My big sister says that science is boring, but she’s wrong. When I grow up I want to be a doctor of science just like you.’ Honestly, I cried a little bit after that.”
Because Ohio schools invite the magician-scientist to perform year after year, Silvestri is constantly inventing new science magic tricks for his audiences and future students.
“It’s a misnomer that teachers teach,” says Silvestri. “We only lead the path. My job is to inspire, not to teach. If I can inspire them, they will learn it themselves.”
Tammy Kernodle, professor of musicology and affiliate faculty of American studies; black world studies; and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Miami University, says there is nothing wrong with changing your mind, and major, while exploring education.
“I always say that my failure as a concert pianist brought me to my destiny, because I knew that my home was music education. I wanted to teach,” Kernodle says of one of her many paths in education.
She was inspired from an early age to be a teacher and owes it to two childhood Christmas gifts that set the tone for her future: a guitar and a chalkboard.
“I used to play school with my brothers,” Kernodle recalls. “We always had our own little band going on.”
After graduating from Virginia State University with a bachelor’s degree in choral music education and piano, Kernodle received her master’s degree and Ph.D. in music history at The Ohio State University. Finding herself on a tenure track at Miami University, Kernodle was tasked with transforming the vision of the music department.
“I hoped to expose students to black culture in a way that moves beyond stereotypes — what they see on television or what they hear projected through popular culture,” explains Kernodle.
So, Kernodle created new music classes that discuss issues of diversity relevant to today’s political and cultural climate. The professor offers a wide range of classes, from surveying the history of jazz and African-American music to exploring the evolution of hip-hop and the ‘‘diva’’ figure in American women’s music.
“I got into musicology because I wanted to write people into history,” says Kernodle, a former consultant for the National Museum of African American History & Culture’s music division. In 2016, the professor oversaw the Washington, D.C.-based museum’s premiere exhibit “Musical Crossroads,” directly influencing how people learn about African-American music history today.
“I am one of these unique people who has an opportunity every day to do what I love, so my job isn’t just my job, in so many ways it is my passion,” says Kernodle. “It defines so much of who I am as a person.”
For Kat Krynak, assistant professor of biology at Ohio Northern University, working in a molecular lab was initially a challenge. After struggling to find confidence in her field as an undergraduate student, Krynak felt inspired to continue her studies after working with Panamanian golden frogs during her time as a zookeeper
“Even though it terrified me, I had to do molecular lab work in order to potentially protect a species. So I had to go back to school and learn how to do that,” recalls the former zookeeper of more than a decade. “Today, I really want to work with students who are afraid of getting into the lab and trying things, because that was me. I love showing them it’s not scary, but actually fun.”
Emphasizing science as an interdisciplinary field, Krynak pushes students to explore multiple subdisciplines of science so they can develop new perspectives when tackling projects.
“It will help them know how to collaborate with people, to understand some of the basics of what other people are doing and how they can work together to answer bigger questions,” she says.
Krynak takes her enthusiasm for getting students out of their comfort zones even further by taking them on international research trips to Ecuador, where she, her husband and a team of co-founders created the nonprofit nature preservation Las Gralarias Foundation in 2005.
“The hands-on experience the students are getting is critical for success long term,” says Krynak, who will be bringing students from engineering, sciences, math and education to work with trout farmers and on a 1,300-acre reserve.
“Not only do they get experience in biodiversity and this wonderful cloud forest habitat in the mountains,” says Krynak, “but also the cultural diversity in how people live differently there.”
Krynak also leads a team of students to Florida yearly to study marine biology.
“When students stop in and have an idea or tell me ‘Oh I did this in the lab and it worked!’ I get so excited,” she says. “That’s why I get up in the morning.”