Building the Curriculum

I’m off to my second round of recruitment with my role as Director of STEM Curriculum Development! The past few months have been filled with hard work by numerous volunteers from all across the world – and with so many hard working students during the Virtual Impact Program at Outreach360.

The first group of volunteers helped to complete the first iteration of Outreach360’s STEM Curriculum. We have lessons ranging from astronomy, to weather, to how DNA controls the way we look and feel! It really displays some of the coolest parts of science in the world. I can’t wait to see this grow into something even larger than it is now! Check out the link below to see the massive amount of lesson plans, google slides, and other resources the team has compiled. I am so proud of them!

The front cover of our curriculum!

I am actively recruiting new volunteers to help with this project along with another project I call “Planting Seeds in STEM”. The goal of this new project is to create an all-in-one resource for college students, graduate students, and beyond to explore the opportunities out there; ways to be involved in the local and global community, scholarships, fellowships, and other professional development tools to use. If you are interested in any of these opportunities, please contact me directly with the information on my home page! 🙂

Alternatively: bgr36 (at)

I’m Back!

After about two months, I’m back with an exciting blog post! Today I was accepted for a publication in Biosensors, a peer-reviewed journal, for my research during undergrad. The research was performed under the supervision of Dr. Rasmussen, a true role model during my college years! I’m so happy our group was able to accomplish this milestone and that I can say I’m a published scientist!!

On top of my science life, I moved to Ithaca, New York in July, started working at the Agricultural Experiment station (pictures below), completed a research project, and have started a new position with Outreach360. So many different things going on during such crazy times – it’s hard to keep everything under control! The word I would use to describe how I feel most is excited. I started my new position a couple weeks ago as the Director of STEM Curriculum Development for Outreach360’s Virtual Impact Program – leading a small group to create as much quality STEM material for teachers to use this fall. I knew I wasn’t quite done with Outreach360 and I’m glad there was an opportunity I could jump at so soon after I finished up my summer internship with them! 🙂

This opportunity gives such balance to my work – allowing creativity and freedom that I otherwise wouldn’t find within the fume hood and laboratory protocols. And working with a great team allows even more content to be made to facilitate learning English and STEM! I find that I get recharged after having a conversation with others on the team, and I’m practicing giving workshops to this team in preparation for the new volunteers this fall, hoping for opportunities to help teachers this fall as well! Overall it has been a roller coaster of ‘adulting’ in Ithaca (the cooking is probably the hardest part), but I’m having fun doing the same things I’ve loved for a long time.

Be well, and tell someone how much you appreciate what they do!

New Opportunities

With the ever-changing work-from-home phase reaching new normality in many households across America, Outreach360 continues to adapt and overcome these challenges with virtual volunteering efforts. I was fortunate to serve with the first group of interns in a four-week experience to virtually teach student in Nicaragua. New opportunities are rising from the same organization to start volunteering in Fall 2020 with commitments that can fit your busy schedule and promote productivity in your life. That is why I’m so excited to see the Virtual Impact Program released just today!

The link above takes you to the Outreach360 website to explore the opportunities available currently. I’m looking forward to staying involved with this organization however I can, and I always looked forward to the days when I could be Teacher Brandon in a Zoom room. Even though I finished only two weeks ago, it feels so far away. Having new experiences with this organization will be something to look forward to this fall, especially since I’ll have some free time on the weekends outside of coursework and performing research at Cornell! Just a short 2-hour session is doable for any ‘busy’ person who wants to commit to a life changing experience, and you won’t regret it! I know that I have grown as a person in more ways that I could imagine through my four weeks with the students, and the bonds you form with them are just so precious. Now it’s a twelve week time period!! I hope that anyone reading this seriously considers this opportunity because it provides you with just as much as you commit to – and not everything in life comes with that guarantee.

Feliz fin de semana – Happy Weekend 🙂

Finding Your Scientist

Home with a variety of plants on patio. (Coco Barrett , June 2020)

When thinking of a scientist, the average person may have difficulty relating. Images of a dark laboratory, flashes of light and smoke, crooked and cracked glasses, and a lab coat might emerge from memories. However, this is not the case for all scientists. For example, I just started my research with pathogens that effect grapevines. No dark rooms or explosions in my near future (fingers crossed).

Challenge for the reader: Google a scientist or field that you feel drawn to, and read the wikipedia page about them. You may find some interesting fact about this person, or discover some new interests! It’s important to have a role model, even in disciplines you aren’t always active in!

In my opinion, a very important of aspect of teaching is believing in the potential of every student. That is why an approach aside from lecturing is important for learning in STEM. Using a more relatable and interest driven teaching method, while still incorporating discussion in class is something we discuss during teacher reflections with Outreach360. I stumbled upon the best method for this: a presentation on your favorite scientist. The students lit up when I explained this idea, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my volunteer experience.

Students chose scientists from nearly every discipline and certainly surprised me with their choices. From Isaac Newton, to Thomas Edison, to even very upcoming neuroscientists, these students were interested in very diverse areas of science. Some highlights are found in the next few pictures.

After each presentation, our class would have a short discussion about the scientist or what type of experiments they would attempt, followed by comments and questions by each student. This fostered a sense of openness and willingness to talk in English, something very important to our 40 minute class time. One of the most interesting topics was around Nikola Tesla, an engineer and technological pioneer. I never realized how important this scientist was for creating the framework for telephones and cell phones, in addition to many more technologies. Another scientist that I personally admire, and was covered by a student presentation is George Washington Carver. His work with cotton and peanuts revolutionized the agricultural industry and provided a great deal of infrastructure to the United States as it was rapidly growing. It is important to understand that there are impressive scientists like this that do get recognized, but there are also many others who do not receive this same type of recognition and contribute in ways that are sometimes equally to their field. I think this activity had a great impact on providing a role model for each student as they discovered a little about different fields and the pioneers that shaped how we see science today.

Our last week together we each were able to research a different scientist and share all of their life’s work in a short presentation with class, working on so many skills at the same time. Fun graphics, videos and other advanced presentation skills went above and beyond my expectations for a virtual classroom setting. I’m glad that I was able to share something like this as the pioneer group of virtual volunteers and that it appeared to be very successful! Here’s to many more experiences with Outreach360 and educating the next generation of scientists.

Do all good things have to come to an end?

Sidewalk in Jinotega, Nicaragua. (Coco Barrett, June 2020)

All good things must come to an end. This commonly used statement may be true for my recent volunteer experience with Outreach360, but I know that I will remain a part of this organization for many years to come. I’ve seen so much growth and joy from the students for the past month, it really is hard to imagine it’s over already. Not only the amazing students, but I’ve had a lot of opportunity to grow. I found a new teaching methodology for when I become a professor, a deeper appreciation for teachers everywhere, and a better understanding of Nicaraguan culture. I hope that I can learn more about the culture and volunteer in person soon!

In my next post I will talk about how my second class of the day (pictured below) tackled their science projects in my time with them. Discussions were a driving point of virtual class time, and I wanted to ensure that everyone was receiving a great educational opportunity. Brainstorming ideas, I knew that having student presentations would facilitate just that. The picture below was taken just after a student finished their presentation about Nikola Tesla! (If you are unfamiliar with this scientist, please look him up. A true pioneer in the field of engineering.)

One of my classes I taught had very advanced English speakers, and many were interested in STEM careers! (Zoom, June 2020)

“Providing opportunities to form individuals with enhanced grit and determination to pursue their dreams and goals.”

Teaching Philosophy, Roy, June 13th, 2020

While I am feeling sad to have this time end, there will be new ways to get involved virtually with Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Details are being finalized about the final summer internship period (starting July 13th) as well as opportunities for Fall 2020. Even though my time is over with the students, this will not be my final post about this internship because there are so many other things I want to say about this amazing experience. So look to additional posts in the coming weeks for more fun times with Nicaragua! 🙂

Becoming Teacher

In just three weeks, I have become a teacher. Not one with certificates or advanced pedagogy. Just ‘Teacher’. The bittersweet moment where the students unmute at the end of class yelling, “Bye Teacher“, and “Thank you Teacher“, is something that has such sentiment. The effort I put into planning lessons and getting the students involved has extra meaning in those moments. The number of questions throughout each class has left me astounded, and I always learn something from my students. Is that what being a teacher is? Being amazed by your students and always growing because of them? My perception of a teacher had been much different growing up, but I have a profound sense of gratitude and bewilderment by this experience.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

With each thank you from a student, I find that I am so thankful for this experience. I’ve experienced a roller coaster of emotions through my teaching time. Some of my ideologies were challenged. Each virtual session we had leading up to classes would build on the reasons we serve. The way Outreach360’s Development Director, Audrey Sharp, framed the professional development sessions helped to form a teaching ideology for interacting with our students; but I’ll be able to use this in my future ambitions and goals too. With these transferable skills, this experience was an excellent bridge to my graduate school experience.

I came to the realization that I wanted to become a professor during my last experience with Outreach360. While the environment during my teaching experiences with this organization are vastly different from a post-secondary teaching experience, I know that the classroom setting is where I belong. Being a student for so long, it may appear as a continuation of what I’ve always known, but I know this is where I am meant to be. By being a teacher and professor, I can have a tremendous impact on the world through inspiring future generations of scientists. My research endeavors around plant pathology can have a larger impact by spreading knowledge through students and I’m looking forward to everything after my volunteering. After this final week I will begin my packing and a few spontaneous adventures before heading to Ithaca in July!

Here’s to another week in Jinotega! Cheers!


“Do something for yourself; do something for others.”

This is a statement that I write every time I begin a new notebook or start to read a book. It provides a reminder to myself that I have been blessed with many opportunities, and that I can share them with others. While this is a small statement to write, I find that this relates to current events and ongoing struggles in the world. I encourage everyone to pursue what they believe is right, but also to listen and reflect on what others say around you. My past few weeks with Outreach360 have provided me insight into a community of ambitious and bright students, just full of potential. This is something I can continue to do, something I can continue to give back through, because I have the potential to change the distribution of opportunity.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

My work-from-home arrangement made possible through Outreach360 and Zoom has made just as much of an impact on me as being in Jinotega, Nicaragua. I hope that it has done the same for the ~15 students I get to teach each day! One incredible aspect of this volunteer internship is that we start each day with some form of professional development.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on

These past few days have been focused on controversy with civility, based on the 7 C’s model of social change. I find the conversations we have each day to be thought provoking, interesting, but also challenging. I have been through 17 years of schooling and not been challenged like this before. The awesome part about this type of internship is that you can hear opinions from people in big metropolitan areas, small towns, hot tropical areas, and even frigid places like Alaska. The difference in opinion never breaks the common goal of providing opportunities to students in Jinotega and Monte Cristi (something essential to a non-profit organization). The challenging discussions have included topics of race, available resources, opportunities, and unbalanced power. These topics are difficult to discuss, but have proven very helpful to openly discuss with open-minded people. These thought-provoking discussions have been just one of the many amazing aspects of this program allowing me to grow as a person in my own identity.

While personal growth is something I am observing during this internship, I also desired to improve the breadth of my cultural knowledge. Through the conversational spanish course and virtual excursions, Outreach360 had already planned for my curiousity towards life in Jinotega. Each day, one of these cultural topics is planned and we’ve visited so much already! From some of the larger cities in Nicaragua, to the volcanoes and islands that are close by, this tropical area has some awesome views. One thing I had never imagined was volcano boarding. Yes, finding a volcano, taking a board up to the top, and riding down the side. I imagine you might want to pick up speed if lava is following you?? Regardless of the rare event of danger, this is something I would totally try when I get the chance to visit Nicaragua.

Other virtual excursions involved visiting various cities with historical significance, and other tropical areas. I look forward to this part of my day because the pictures and videos transport me to a different place and lessen the isolation feels of the last few months. I am blessed to take part in these activities each day and I want to leave you with something today.

Just as I started out this post, please do something for yourself; but also do something for others. We often can leave ourselves drained so take a moment to assess your physical, mental, and spiritual health. Do what you need to start a repair process on any of these aspects of health, and then search for someone else to serve. Provide anything you can. You’ve been given many resources and can do so many things to make this world a better place. If everyone did this, many would be given new opportunities and given a life of choice. This is part of the vision of Outreach360 and it has become a part of me as well.

Daily Commute from PA to Nicaragua

For essential workers during the pandemic commuting to and from work can become a tedious yet necessary part of the day. My commute each day would involve a 45 minute car ride, ~20 hour connecting flights, and a 2.5 hour bus ride from Hershey, PA to Jinotega, Nicaragua. This is not the case, because of the wonderful platform of Zoom(R). My daily travels are simplified to being in front of my computer and even if there are connection difficulties, it beats the 24 hour commute to Jinotega. International volunteers have been unable to visit Jinotega since 2018 due to political unrest, but adapting through technology has made new opportunities possible.

Thanks to Zoom, each day I can participate in the four-week STEM education internship through Outreach360. Finding productive and helpful measures during these difficult times were something I sought after before my next steps in life, and it led me back to Outreach360. This organization has provided educational opportunities to children in both the Dominican Republic (DR) and Nicaragua through volunteers from all over the world. From 3pm-7pm EST, I am behind my computer monitor learning and teaching similarly to my last Spring break in the DR. I’m so grateful for this experience and the ability to share my passion about STEM. You can see my desktop and zoom experience from the first two pictures below. I dedicate time each day to plan for class and find interesting experiments that we can do over Zoom. Some experiments go really well and everyone is able to learn, but others can flop. The additional challenges have been difficult to overcome in the ‘classroom’, but this experience has shown me the extraordinarily bright young minds that are eager to learn English and STEM. Some links to my teaching resources are found at the end of this post for anyone interested!

The last two pictures above are from the Nicaragua’s Outreach360 Volunteer Coordinator, Coco Barrett, who is currently stationed in Nicaragua. She is responsible for organizing our teaching efforts and ensuring opportune learning in the classrooms. She has been with Outreach for nearly a decade and her experience helps us to see Jinotega, Nicaragua like we were there in person! She sends us pictures from outside showing how the city of Jinotega achieved the name of “the city of mist” as well as the native plant diversity, like the triplaris or palo santo pictured on the right. The encouragement from the staff at Outreach360 makes the experience even more worth the energy spent teaching the kids!

In addition to occasional pictures, we have the opportunity for virtual field trips made and presented by native Nicaragua residents that are actively involved with Outreach360. Teacher Alma, Teacher Indira, and Teacher Belen have shared many stories and interesting facts about their culture and upbringing. A vibrant and beautiful land surrounds Jinotega with mountains and mist. Some pictures from today’s virtual excursion are shown below. Subscribe here for future updates about my experiences with Outreach360:

Online Science Quizzes Learning About the Atom

What is quicksand? A solid? A liquid?

My Google Slides for a few classes: Class 1&2 (Science, Scientists, and You!), Classes 3&4 (Atoms, Molecules, and States of Matter)

My latin american experience while staying home doesn’t lack flavor! Rice, beans, chicken, and salsa!

One Week Done!

As the week draws to a close, the first week of my Zoom internship with Outreach360 is in the books. The last three days of teaching were fun, rewarding, and provided me with insight on how to best teach over the next three weeks!

After orientation was done on Tuesday, we began virtually traveling from Nicaragua to the Dominican Republic for professional development talks. These talks complement our teaching styles, define our expectations as teachers, and help each intern to manage the demands of our volunteer work. I find that this time gives me additional skills and allows me to approach how I talk about volunteering with ease. The leadership team at Outreach360 has made this a very enjoyable experience so far, and I want to take a bit of time to outline their mission, vision, and goals.

We inspire and empower people to reach their full potential and give back by expanding educational, leadership, and service opportunities.

Mission StatementOutreach360

We envision a world where every person reaches their full potential by creating opportunities for themselves and others.

Vision Statement Outreach360

Founded in 1994, Orphanage Outreach was instituted into Monte Cristi as an orphanage that would provide tools and resources eventually leading to new opportunities down the road. Sixteen years later in 2010, a name change to Outreach360 occured because the orphanage began to change into an organization that provided english learning tools to the greater community. Shortly after this, Jinotega, Nicaragua was made the second home for Outreach360 and became a new area for educational opportunity. The foundation of the principles and mission statement have allowed the organization to persist over 25 years – quite a feat for a non-profit educational foundation! I know that something is going well to see fellow interns back as well as teachers that were once in the learning center as students. Three individuals during my time in the Dominican Republic were serving as Adelante or Serve/Study Students, where those who went through the Outreach360 english education program would come back to teach the next generation. This type of involvement and inspiration allows the organization to keep going year after year!

This week has been full of fun experiences as we began talking about science, scientists, and everything that is studied in the universe! Wednesday was my first day of teaching and we started talking about all the different types of scientists in the world. It is important to draw out the potential of each student by allowing them to dream of any career opportunity and to share what types of professions there are. I was AMAZED by the responses I got from students and their general interest in science. My classes talked about astronomy, marine biology, geology, chemistry, and more. While the classes are held over zoom, I found that participation was key to holding the attention of students. Everyone was very attentive and ready to do some activities that I shared through Google Slides!

Visuals seemed to be the most effective medium across the zoom interface to spark conversations with the students.

This first activity I used many pictures and wanted to spark a conversation. This was to gauge how much the students knew about each topic and what they were excited to learn about. Some knew about biology or just that some scientists study flowers, and others went on about how ‘astronomers are scientists that study the universe and everything in it from stars, to the moon, to planets’. These kids are very bright and have so much enthusiasm to learn about all disciplines of science.

Providing a task and incorporating questions into the activity made the students think harder about describing each image. The students were then asked to send a sentence in the chat so they could practice writing/typing in English.

This next activity was used through Google Slides to have students arrange pictures in accordance to size. This activity involved student participation and I also asked the student to describe where each ‘thing’ is found, who studies it, and why it is important to study. The intermediate english students seemed to understand this and it pushed them, while the advanced students were able to form more complex sentences with ease. Activities using visuals are very useful for learning with the students and making them practice talking in English.

The last thing I want to highlight from this week was that each student was enthusiastic about learning and almost competitive. The image below shows the student responses from one of my classes today as we began talking about the smallest building blocks of matter, the atom. Student responses were very creative, but the second answer appeared competitive with the first, and it brought a laugh during the teaching debrief after our classes ended. Formative assessment of each student can be performed when taking answers from the zoom ‘chat’ feature, and screen-sharing the answers with the class (correcting the grammar along the way).

Activity to engage students about what the smallest thing they see, in order to spark interest about atoms and the smallest structures of matter.

My Past Experience with Outreach360

The first two days of my internship with Outreach360 have been amazing! We have been learning a variety of teaching strategies and all about zoom (see picture below). Teacher Coco has been a great instructor and leader for our group, as she has about a decade of experience in Nicaragua. The other volunteers are from all around the United States including Alaska, Illinois, Washington, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. These first two days of training have provided me with the skills I need to carry out the rest of these four weeks.

The pioneer virtual instructors for Outreach360’s afternoon session of Science and English learning in Nicaragua.

Since there has been no interaction with the students just yet (first classes are later today), I saw this as a perfect opportunity to share about my last experience with this organization in the Dominican Republic (DO). During the week of March 2nd, 2019, Lebanon Valley College’s international service trip took off to Monte Crisiti, DO. This was the second cohort of students from the college to go in the spring due to the amount of interest (awesome). My classmates and I pulled our suitcases through the snow covered sidewalks to the bus and before we knew it, we landed at Puerto Plata International Airport. Training right after getting some sleep made the day go by so fast on Sunday and gave us great tools to use throughout the week. But what I didn’t expect was then how fast the week went.

Each day was filled with activities and adventure. In the mornings, groups would head off to three different elementary schools in Monte Cristi to teach introductory English. This was a full language immersion experience and very unique to the area, and would eventually provide opportunity for students to further their education. The afternoons were spent in the Outreach360 learning center, in which I was a Spanish instructor for roughly five students each day. In these sessions we would work on grammar and critical thinking skills while reading. I miss the days where we would get the children learning ‘Poco a Poco’ or ‘little by little’ through the learning center programs. Some students have progressed through Outreach360’s program to pursue additional schooling at a University in the Dominican Republic. These scholarly and dedicated students often come back to help the Outreach360 program by becoming volunteers themselves. The ideals behind living a life of choice and inspiring others pursue additional opportunities is the foundation of the organization. I’m so excited to continue on with this program and continue fostering additional opportunities to learn in Nicaragua. Below are some pictures from the DR and in some of the schools we taught in.

The first grade classroom that we taught in the first session of the mornings is pictured on top, with a larger view of the school on the bottom.
Some of ‘Los Teachers’ from Lebanon Valley College that taught in the Spanish Literacy Center in the afternoons.
The most delicious ice cream I’ve had, and it was a short walk from the main headquarters of Outreach360 in Monte Cristi!

I have my first classes today with new student in Nicaragua, and I can’t wait to meet all of them and learn about science with them! It’s going to be a great four weeks!