Endowed chairs at Valencia: Olga Vazquez, M.S., and the Health Academy

This is first in a series about the professors who recently were awarded endowed chairs at Valencia College.

Olga Vazquez

 

Olga Vazquez, professor of biology, spends a lot of her time hanging around fifth graders.

No, that’s not how she spends her free time, although with a 9-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl at home, one could be forgiven for thinking that was a possibility.

Actually, it’s a big part of her Valencia Foundation endowed chair project.

Armed with a bachelor of science, and a master’s in microbiology and molecular biology from UCF, Professor Vazquez heads up the Health Academy, an educational awareness program designed to supplement the fifth graders’ biology content. It includes learning about healthy lifestyles and gives students a chance to get excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers.

The project particulars include taking Valencia College student volunteers to mentor Lawton Chiles Elementary School children. Vazquez says she chose fifth graders, not only because she was following the guidelines of the Anatomy Academy at UCLA, but also because kids of that age are “mature enough to grasp the biology content behind the activities while being conscious enough to influence their families.”

Twitter screen shot of the opening of Health Academy

Twitter screen shot of the opening of Health Academy

 

The Valencia students teach the LCE students about making healthy food choices, and inspire them to consider STEM, allied health, or education careers. The elementary students will share their newfound knowledge with family and community members.

They’ll also develop anatomy and physiology hands-on activities.

Part of the hoped-for outcome is to use the experience to encourage education majors at Valencia to become STEM teachers “by training them in the fields of anatomy and physiology,” Vazquez says. In addition, they’ll learn how to work with youngsters.

The Health Academy mirrors the Anatomy Academy, which was founded by Jonathan Wisco at UCLA (now with Brigham Young University), she says. He developed the idea of teaching fifth graders nutrition and health.

Wisco’s work inspired Vazquez to reach out to her community and teach science at the same time. She expanded the original activities to call it Health Academy. This is the first such organization of its kind in Florida.

This is Vazquez’s second term with her project. She still keeps in touch with several of the mentors from last spring—three are interested in participating again. She plans to continue Health Academy for several more terms and to expand the project to additional elementary schools.

One memorable experience from last year includes a student who, after seeing the difference between smokers’ lungs and non-smoker’s lungs, was immediately encouraged his grandmother to stop smoking.

Prof. Vazquez is married to Rafael Vazquez and has two children in elementary and middle school. Her children have both attended Lawton Chiles. She has been teaching at Valencia since 2008.

The Health Academy

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