Meet the S.P.A.R.K.S.
Julie Merrill (Jurassic Julie) is executive director and has been with The S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation for almost 4 years. She has more than 20 years’ experience in the non-profit world and most of it has involved education.
Her love of science was inevitable as she grew up the daughter of a mechanical engineer who was also an inventor with nine patents. Science experiments were a part of daily life as her dad, also a botanist at heart, raised and cross-bred many types of flowering plants and even created a new species of begonia years ago.
She loves bringing the excitement of science and STEM to young students and hopes that S.P.A.R.K.S.’ experiential programs inspire many of them to become budding scientists. She resides in Lancaster County, PA.
Jennifer Moorehead (Jupiter Jen) established The S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation in 2003 to promote quality, inquiry-based science for ALL children, regardless of socio-economic status. She is also the founder and CEO of Science Explorers which she started in 1999 out of her garage in Lancaster County, PA.
Although Jupiter Jen's dad was a biologist who introduced her to various environmental experiences through camping, gardening and creek stomping, her initial interests and career path leaned towards sales and marketing. It wasn't until she began performing science assemblies for a California science-based company in 1997 that she realized her passion for inquiry-based learning, especially in the area of science.
She resides in Berks county PA with her husband Rob and their posse of animals.
Sarah Troy (Solar Sarah) is our Program Director and lead instructor for this program. She is a true educator, through and through. Her passion for science has always been a vital component of her education, beginning at Penn State as a biology major.
Her passion for education eventually took over, and she graduated from Penn State with a B.S. in elementary education. Sarah spent 7 years in the classroom, always engaging her students in the curriculum through hands-on creativity and exploration.
Eventually, Sarah took her strong interest in science and teaching and combined them when she joined our staff 10 years ago. Every classroom teacher who experiences her teaching skills and enthusiasm during our program sings her praises.
Gracene Sirianno (Galaxy Gray) has been one of S.P.A.R.K.S. foundation lead science educators for over 4 years. She loves watching budding young scientists find confidence in their education! With a passion for teaching and learning, Gracene brings a true joy of discovery into the classroom every day! Her love of nature stems from raising her three kids to explore the wonders of the natural world!
Galaxy Gray joined S.P.A.R.K.S. after 14 years as a public school teacher and is thrilled to share her love for making science real with young students! She is passionate about experiential science education and believes that all students deserve the opportunity to a mission driven science curriculum.
In her free time, Gracene can be found paddling along the Delaware river or rambling through the Pennsylvania woods in search of new adventures. She holds a Master's in Education for Curriculum Development from New York State University at Albany.
Elizabeth Lally (Lava Liz) has been with S.P.A.R.K.S. for over 4 years. She started as a classroom assistant and immediately identified with and became enthralled with S.P.A.R.K.S.’ mission of hands-on learning. Growing up, Liz was surrounded by a family of decorated educators. She learned from them the importance and effectiveness of being an engaging, enthusiastic, and passionate teacher.
She studied education at Penn State University, as well as the arts and art history. Through these courses she was exposed to multiple teaching styles which led to a greater understanding that each student has an individual learning style. Being an artistic person, Liz has always been a hands-on, visual learner. Having the opportunity to teach textbook scientific curriculum coupled with hands-on lessons has given Liz a personal attachment to this program. Liz also has utilized her art background by designing posters, handouts and other visual tools for S.P.A.R.K.S. She is thankful to be part of the education team and to spread its mission.
Stephanie Spayd (Starry Steph) earned a B.S. in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology and a M.S. in Forensic Science with a concentration in Forensic Toxicology. After graduation, Starry Steph worked in a forensic research laboratory for a non-profit organization. During the summer months, this organization brought students with a low socio-economic status into the lab to conduct their own research projects. Being a mentor to these students was one of the most rewarding opportunities of her life. While working in the laboratory, Starry Steph also taught a master’s level Forensic Toxicology course for Arcadia University and was an adjunct Pharmacology professor at Drexel University.
She learned early on that kids of all ages learn the most from having hands-on experience, and her teaching motto became “If I show you, you will see it; but if you do it, then you will learn it.” Having this “hands-on” philosophy made for an easy transition to the S.P.A.R.K.S. family in October 2017 where it’s all about experiencing science with first hand experimentation.