Franciscan University's Education Department is Making a Difference
March 31, 2023

*This interview originally appeared in the Steubenville Herald Star on Sunday, February 19, 2023.


Dr. Megan Reister is an associate professor of special education and early childhood at Franciscan University of Steubenville.


Q. You collaborate with the local community in several education initiatives. Why is this so important for you personally?

A. Thinking back on my own teacher preparation, and then as a teacher within the community for eight years, I’ve benefited myself from collaboration with Franciscan University students and local elementary school partners.


Q. Where do you see the greatest need for progress in local education?

A. I see a lack of resources. That’s why what we do is free. It’s a way for us to give back to the community.


Q. A few of the most impactful programs you do are the Gizmo Collaboration, Kids’ Math Club, and Education Day field trips. Can you tell us more about each one?

A. The Gizmo Collaboration is a joint initiative of our engineering and education departments. Dr. Justin Greenly, an associate professor of engineering, and I are the organizers. It makes learning engaging and fun and exposes local school-age students to STEM concepts. Our partner schools’ teachers give us a list of topics. Our Franciscan University education majors pick one and create three different lesson plans for it in language arts, math, and science. Then, the engineering majors create the “gizmos,” interactive devices that bring to life some educational concept. For example, our education majors created three lessons on the topic of erosion, and the engineering majors created a gizmo that helps students learn about it in a hands-on, interactive way. At the end of every fall semester, we invite local schools and families to our Gizmo Expo. Our students engage the children as they interact with the gizmos. Then, we give the whole package—lesson plans, gizmos, and instructions to make the gizmos at home—to local classroom teachers and parents free of charge.


Q. Tell us about the Kids’ Math Club and how it’s helping local school-age children.

A. Dr. Christina Safranski, an associate professor of mathematics at Franciscan, started and now leads the Kids’ Math Club. I have a supportive role. We offer free math programming for eight Saturdays in a row. The beauty of it is that it’s not only for children, but for parents, too. We have three classrooms side-by-side for younger and older elementary school students and parents. There’s a central theme, but it’s work disguised as play or game-based learning.


Q. Tell us what’s unique about the Education Day Field Trips to Franciscan’s campus.

A. Research has shown that third- and fourth-grade students are already thinking about their future. The Education Day Field Trips were born out of that research. I work on this with Dr. Joshua Miller, director of Programming and Coaching in Franciscan’s Office of Personal Vocation. We invite local school partners to send their school-age children to campus for interactive educational activities. There is a scavenger hunt, campus tour, Mass if they want, and complimentary lunch. Feedback shows the free food is their favorite part! The experience often starts the conversation about future schooling. If I’m a third grader who wants to go to college, I’m thinking how I can be the best third grader right now.


Q. What’s a unique benefit your programs offer to local school-age kids?

A. I think these outreaches are powerful because the children in the community see these college students and look up to them. They see them as mentors. They’re like, “I want to be that person when I grow up.”


Q. What do you love most, and what makes you most hopeful about the progress of education in our local community?

A. Speaking as a professor and mom of a child who has benefited from these programs, I love to see the looks on the faces of the students of all ages when they learn something new in an engaging, interactive way. It gives me hope to see our volunteers and all they are doing out of love for others in the community, and the joy on teachers’ faces. There’s always an opportunity to grow and to try something new.

We couldn’t do any of this without the local community. I want to say “thank you” from the bottom of my heart to all our school partners and community members who receive us with open arms, and who participate in the programming.


For more information about Franciscan University’s local education initiatives, please contact Dr. Megan Reister at [email protected] or (740) 284-5297.