From Lying in a Hospital Bed to Inspiring STEM Educators

Ophelia Barizo is thankful God allowed her to present at convention against all odds.

Christelle Agboka, North American Division, and Adventist Review
From Lying in a Hospital Bed to Inspiring STEM Educators
The 2023 "Something Better" NAD Educators’ Convention had an increased focus on STEM, with several K-12 STEM seminars led by Ophelia Barizo and a special science section of the exhibit hall. [Image: Colematt]

Attendees of Ophelia Barizo’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) seminars at the 2023 NAD Educators’ Convention would never have guessed that she had been hospitalized just days before. The smiling woman in front of them, a passionate STEM education consultant, showed no trace of illness.

Barizo’s presence was a testimony to her dedication to science education. On August 3, shortly after checking into the condo she and her husband had rented in nearby Scottsdale for a pre-convention vacation, she began experiencing a high fever, chills, difficulty breathing, and a rapid heart rate. Her husband called 911, and she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.

There, staff discovered an infection in her blood and administered antibiotics via IV. Thankfully, by Saturday, August 5, the doctor said there was no new bacterial growth in her blood, and by Sunday, no more bacteria.

“I prayed that if it was the Lord’s will that I still do my presentations, I would be discharged in time to do them. By Sabbath [Saturday] afternoon, my temperature came down to normal and stayed that way until I was discharged on Monday afternoon.”

The doctor gave Barizo the clearance to present but told her to take it easy the rest of the time, which she did. As such, she could not participate much in the STEM experience at the exhibit hall. She had been part of the planning committee and produced the list of STEM kits used in the Tinker Space (exploration zone for STEM gadgets) for elementary education teachers. However, fellow organizer Betty Nugent, learning and development coach for the Florida Conference Office of Education, and others stepped in to lead Barizo’s exhibit hall demonstrations, allowing her more time to heal.

She was well enough by Tuesday and Wednesday (August 8 and 9) to lead out in two breakout sessions. The first was “STEM on a Shoestring,” which offered preK-8 teachers budget-friendly ways to incorporate STEM instruction into their classrooms, including free STEM resources online, attending free workshops, and networking for ideas.

Barizo also showed teachers they could use inexpensive materials for hands-on STEM activities with their students. Astrid Borges, grade 1 and 2 teacher at Gateway Christian School in Florida, appreciated in-class exercises such as building a two-foot tower using index cards, building balloon cars, solar cars, catapults, and more with everyday items. Barizo demonstrated her philosophy, which she learned years back at a conference: “Hands-on is minds-on.”

Borges said, “My students love hands-on experiences. They teach them problem-solving, teamwork, and how to come up with solutions. All the ideas [in ‘STEM on a Shoestring’] are great, and I am excited to try them in my first-and-second-grade class.”

In her other session, for preK-12, “Discipling Students through STEM,” Barizo focused on “integrating STEM concepts with faith and learning to help disciple students to the Creator.” She shared STEM worship ideas, week of prayer themes, and hands-on STEM activities to reinforce the spiritual lessons they hear. This seminar was also activity based, including making UV bead bracelets and “snow,” and ended with her distributing small kits she’d used for STEM-focused weeks of prayer she has conducted at Adventist schools.

In both seminars, Barizo’s mission for STEM education shone through. “In our Christian school setting, I believe STEM helps us understand and appreciate God’s creation more and draws us to the source of all wisdom, our Creator God.”

Looking back, Barizo said, she will always be grateful God answered her prayers and that of others to allow her to participate in the educators’ convention.

“This conference was special to me since I had a direct answer to prayer for healing so I could do my presentations. It was also wonderful to meet many of my former students who are now educators, and teacher friends from my 43 years of being an educator in the Philippines, Canada, and the Chesapeake Conference. Although I could not circulate and attend sessions as much as I would have liked due to my recent illness, I was still blessed.”

Seeing God through STEM

Barizo’s book, Seeing God Through STEM, published by Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, was released on July 30, 2023. The devotional book targets young people and adults and links STEM concepts and inventions with biblical teachings and faith. It is available through the Westbow Press online store in print and e-book format, along with Amazon and Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and other Christian bookstores.

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.

Christelle Agboka, North American Division, and Adventist Review