Taking PA Education to New Heights

It wasn’t just the altitude of the mile-high city – everything about this year’s Education Forum in Denver seemed to be elevated. The sessions and discussions were especially animated, the networking was livelier than usual, the enthusiasm of the attendees was contagious, and the speakers were both inspiring and entertaining — drawing standing ovations.

The Power of Our Brains

O'Neill Brain and learning expert Dee O’Neill, MS, LPC, kicked off the Forum with a fascinating talk about the human brain, which controls our thoughts, feeling, and actions – and essentially makes us who we are. She explained how what we’ve learned recently about the brain can – and should – inform the way we teach. To more deeply engage our students and maximize cognitive performance, she said, we must design learning experiences that stimulate the problem-solving, critical thinking, and judgment center of the brain – the frontal lobe.

O’Neill also offered some basic tips for a healthy brain:

  • 7–8 hours of sleep a night
  • Regular exercise
  • Social engagement
  • Nutritious diet
  • Avoiding stress and information overload

Perhaps the real news flash was that multitasking is a misnomer. “Trying to do several things simultaneously actually increases by five times how long it takes to do something,” said O’Neill. She stressed that to maximize your productivity, it’s far better to focus on one task at a time — as difficult as that may be in today’s world.

Holding Fast to Your Dreams

Hrabowkski_med shotFreeman Hrabowski, III, PhD, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, treated Forum attendees to a thought-provoking, compelling address. Leading a campus widely recognized for its culture of embracing academic innovation to help students of all backgrounds succeed, he explained that all of us have a story, and that it’s important to make sure our story is told.

Saying that he was deeply inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King early in his life, Hrabowski told his story of how, when he was just 12 years old (with his parents’ blessing), he marched in Alabama for better education for minorities and ended up going to jail for a week. He said Dr. King’s dream of everyone trusting each other and working together deeply resonated with him, and that he encourages his students to also follow their dreams. He stressed the fundamental importance of education for social advancement and equality and provided some interesting statistics about the number of Americans who go to college, noting that two-thirds of Americans of all races have no one in their family who went to college.

Those who have graduated from college, said Hrabowski, include:

55% of Asians
37% of whites
20% of blacks
15% of Hispanics

Hrabowski commended the PA profession for recognizing that it’s not as diverse as it would like to be and for taking steps to change that. 

Thriving in Spite of the Odds

Register cropped If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed by life or just having trouble getting motivated and need a healthy dose of inspiration, listen to John Register’s story. A former track star who lost his leg in a freak accident while training for the 400-meter Olympic-class hurdles more than 20 years ago, Register took Forum attendees on an emotional journey. Yet, those of us listening to his recounting of the events came away not feeling sorry for him, but actually being in awe of all that he has not only overcome, but accomplished.

Register, a U.S. Army Gulf War veteran, didn’t just manage to get back up after having his Olympic dreams shattered. He went on to excel in what he calls his “new normal,” pushing his own personal limits — training for swimming and track events with an artificial leg and then winning a silver medal in the long jump at the Paralympic Games in 2000.

Those of us in the audience left ready to accept his challenge to identify what’s preventing each of us from achieving our own dreams and to break down those barriers, so that we, too, might inspire others.


As Forum participants reminisced about the past 50 years, we also looked ahead to 2067. Attendees were asked to contribute to our time capsule, a small gift to our colleagues of the future. Many provided letters and other mementos from the past while others added hand-written postcards filled out at the Forum.

The time capsule now will be sealed and shipped to the PA History Society where it will reside for the next 50 years, at which time, some of us will be around to witness its unveiling.