Featured Colleague: Rachael Dailey-Mihalik Channels Scientific Experiences Into New Education Ambassador RoleShare
By Dani Moritz-Long
Formerly a field biologist, a biological scientist and a Valencia College biology lab supervisor, Rachael Dailey-Mihalik’s daily work looks substantially different than it did during the beginning of her career. That’s because she recently traded hands-on scientific work for a new role at the College — one that builds pathways and opens doorways for future scientists.
This past May, Rachael, whose educational accomplishments include a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s degree in biology, began her role as an education ambassador. This means she’s part of a Lake Nona educational initiative called the Community Scholars Initiative, which is designed to elevate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and increase opportunities for area learners.
“This is a community-wide project that will impact learners in every part of the community from pre-K to Ph.D.,” she explained. “We are working with partners in both the Orange County and Osceola County schools as well as the University of Central Florida, Nemours Children’s Hospital, the Tavistock Development Company and others in business and industry. Our goal is to bring unique experiences to the region that offer authentic educational moments for all, both in schools and out in the community.”
Continuing, Rachael said, “While I have many things I was proud of in my work as a lab supervisor, I am most proud of the work I am now engaged in. I am developing and implementing a project really from the ground up. Our internal and external stakeholders created a vision for what they wanted education to look like in Lake Nona and they have now handed that vision over to me. It is my job to make it come to life. This includes some really exciting programs putting working scientists and engineers in our area K-12 schools in front of students, enhancing partnerships to improve student research and internship opportunities, and creating unique community events with an educational focus. We have a lot of exciting things coming down the pipeline. We are just starting to get some momentum, and there will be a lot of great work coming out very soon.”
In short, Rachael explains, she’s bringing the right people to the table so that students can see themselves in STEM roles and participate in opportunities to develop STEM skills.
The scientist in residence program in particular is a major win for Rachael and the initiative. Bringing diverse scientists from area hospitals, engineering firms and graduate programs into K-12 classrooms will enable students to see themselves in working professionals, develop relationships and learn about the real-life applications of the content they’re learning in school.
Fortunately, Rachael noted, Valencia College is aptly positioned to meet this need and foster the kind of relationships required for successful programming.
“Valencia has become an integral part of the community,” Rachael said. “When people have asked me why my new position is housed at Valencia (since most of our work will be in K-12 and community events), I tell them it is because Valencia has already built the important relationships with the community. We have the respect and connection with our public school and university partners. We are uniquely poised to make great impacts in our community because we are deeply embedded in our community and invested in its success.”
As a scientist herself with Valencia College experience and an interest in creating mentoring opportunities, Rachael is also uniquely suited to this work.
“Rachael brings her strong science and research background to this exciting new role of education ambassador,” said Mike Bosley, executive dean, Lake Nona Campus. “The College is excited that Rachael will be leading this work in partnership with Tavistock.”
Outside of work, you’ll find Rachael enjoying time with her husband and one-year-old son. Together, they participate in a variety of outdoor activities from camping to canoeing.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for at least one year? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.