• Frank DiGiovanni

Hi, nice to meet you!

Updated: Mar 3

...The pleasure is all mine...

It’s always nice to put a face with a name and learn a little bit more about a person before meeting them. Here at the Science Museum of Long Island we feel the same way and have four fantastic teachers we’d like you to get to know a little bit more about them. They have diverse backgrounds, hail from different places and have different experiences. They bring all of that and more to the Science Museum to help the next generation of scientists learn more about the world around them in many fun, educational and hands on ways.

Natassia Balek, Laura Friello, Frank DiGiovanni and Huse Kivrak are the four educators here on a day-to-day basis and the ones your child(ren) would meet any time they’re here. Field trips, scout badges, summer camp and holiday programs (held when there’s no school), after school and outreach programs are part of their teaching repertoire here at SMLI.

We asked them a few questions so you can get to know them a little bit before you bring your child(ren) here.

Natassia Balek, Educator

Natassia and a Gray seal selfie!

Where is your education from and what is it in?

I studied at Stony Brook University at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) and earned a BS in Marine Vertebrate Biology.

Why did you chose that area of study and why it’s important to you? I chose this area of science because I'm very passionate about protecting our planet and all the amazing organisms that not only inhabit it but help it function as a healthy biosphere. The health of our marine environment is especially important to the overall health of our planet. Humans' choices and actions have put our oceans and all that live in it, at grave risk. I feel that by getting a degree in this field I can be a small help in protecting these amazing animals and restoring this rich ecosystem to what it once was.

What drove you to study your area of science? I was unconsciously driven to this area of science in a few ways. I grew up on the north shore of Long Island where I was lucky enough to be in walking distance to the beach my whole life; I grew up with the water as my playground. I spent many years, guided by the voice of Sir David Attenborough, watching the documentary series Blue Planet. This sparked an immense interest in all the fascinating creatures from just below the surface of the water to the deepest, darkest points of the ocean floor. I also had a few teachers in High School that instilled a love of science and pushed me to explore the options available for my future, specifically my marine science teacher who guided me to the path I'm on today. I can't forget my parents who always encouraged my scientific curiosities.

Why do you like STEM? I think STEM is an incredible way to challenge yourself to think outside the box. I think science can sometimes come off as something too difficult or boring to some people, but STEM has been a door to looking at things differently and getting all kinds of people involved in creative problem solving. It shows that you don't just have to be in a lab in a white coat to do science and that science is all around us integrated into our daily lives.

Coolest science thing you’ve done/been to/helped with/etc. One of the coolest science things I've done was intern at the Riverhead Aquarium on the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle rescue team. I got to help rescue and rehab animals like sea turtles and seals. I also got to participate in some necropsies. I was lucky enough to be able to help in performing a necropsy on a Leatherback sea turtle, the largest sea turtle in the world. Unfortunately, this animal died from boat strike which is an all too common fate for many marine species. However, by learning the cause of these deaths and our part in them, we can hopefully find a way to prevent future ones and that's why I'm in this field.

Laura Friello, Educator

Natassia (left) and Laura (right) show their affection for the Sweet Gum tree

Where is your education from and what is it in?

I have my B.S in Biology with a concentration in Ecology & Evolution from Stony Brook University and also have my Masters in Biology with a concentration in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology from Adelphi University.

Why did you choose that area of study and why it’s important to you? I chose this area of study because I have always been interested in animals and the environment. Without all the animals, plants and life on this planet, we would not be able to survive. It's important to me because there aren’t enough people making efforts to conserve the environment. If I can push even one person to do more to conservation than I feel like it was worth it.

What drove you to study your area of science? As a kid, I had a variety of different animals as pets from frogs to cats to hamsters to rabbits. I found each of them fascinating in their own way. It's very interesting to study how the different animals react to their environments and I knew I wanted to study how animals lived. During school, most of the discussions revolved on how these animals would react to Climate Change. This piqued my interest because it’s a huge topic that’s happening right now and we have the ability to fix what happens in these animals' futures.

Why do you like STEM? STEM brings people together from different areas of science and puts them all together. It shows kids that you can use different ideas and techniques to solve problems and that there is not just one way to solve it. Science is often misconstrued as just putting chemicals together and watching them explode. I feel like teaching STEM lets kids explore other areas of science to find what their interests are. I believe that there is a field of science out there for everyone.

What’s the coolest science thing you’ve done/been to/helped with? I was lucky enough to be able to create my own research project, implement it and analyze my data. The scientific method is a process that you read about a lot in science. Creating my own project that lasted for 18 months and getting real data from it was a cool experience.

Frank DiGiovanni, Educator

Frank sitting on a chair made of ice!

Where is your education is from and what is it in? My undergraduate degree is in Elementary Education with a concentration in Science from SUNY Plattsburgh and my Master’s in in Special Education from Dowling College.

Why you chose that area of study and why it’s important to you? I became an Elementary Teacher because of my love of working with children and I earned a concentration in science so I would be able to use and teach it on a daily basis; it is also the foundation of our everyday lives. From hydrology to astronomy, so much of what we wonder about is answerable through some kind of science.

What drove you to study your area of science? My grandfather, mother and father were all the main reasons I got into education, but it was my mother and grandfather who fanned the flames for my love of science. I even got a book as a gift called "The Way Things Work” by Neil Ardley and David Macaulay because I had so many questions that my mom and dad couldn’t readily answer.

Why you like STEM? I like STEM because there are so many areas that can be studied to help satisfy my own curiosity and the curiosity of the students who come through the doors of SMLI. Plus, when teaching STEM topics there’s nothing better than watching a student go “WOAH!” because of something they weren’t expecting happened or because they made something happen through their own experimentation.

Coolest science thing you’ve done/been to/helped with/etc? In 2016, I went on a cruise as part of the finals of an international, STEM-based innovation contest for high school students I used to run. The finalists sailed from Miami, Florida to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and while onboard the cruise to the Dominican, the final round was held. Plus, while in the DR, we did philanthropic events like helping pour cement foundations for families with only dirt floors, visited local schools and helped create water filtration devices for homes that had no running water.

Lastly. I always tell my students that it’s okay to be wrong, or not know the answer to something. It’s what you do about that ignorance or incorrect answer that makes the difference. Failure is always an option but if you learn from that failure, you’re a success.

Huse Kivrak, Program Manager and Educator

Huse with a thankful student and her sister

Where is your education from and what is it in? I received a BA in both Biology and Philosophy at Clark University.

Why did you chose that area of study and why it’s important to you? I was always fascinated with science from an early age, which grew into a love and appreciation of natural evolution and ecological systems. Today, looking at our planet in a holistic way is more important than ever, and I’m grateful to have the background and scientific literacy required to better educate and inform my community. I discovered philosophy in high school and was hooked immediately. It can be poetic, challenging, eye-opening, and elucidating. While often neglected, I think studying philosophy goes hand-in-hand with science and science education. Exploring fields like ethics and metaphysics can not only be enlightening, but also very fun.

What drove you to study your area of science? Curiosity has always been the prime motivator for me. I was always the type of kid that was never satisfied with an answer and continually asked “Why?” My parents gave me a microscope when I was young, which I used to look at everything from dead bees to my own saliva, and when I later learned that some people spent their lives answering questions like “What’s the top speed of a slug?” or “What does algae do for the environment?”, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

(By the way, the fastest recorded slug was clocked at 0.2mph! And algae use photosynthesis to create up to 50% of all oxygen available to humans!)

Why you like STEM? Having taught the STEM after school workshops here at SMLI for the past few years, I’ve seen firsthand how impactful STEM-based education can be. Integrating the fastest-growing fields in science with a hands-on approach readies children for an ever-changing world, and more importantly, gives them immediate proof of what they are capable of when they apply critical thinking and creativity. Seeing self-confidence grow in kids as they solve problems and create unique contraptions has been wonderful. The recent emphasis on STEM has got to be one of the best innovations in science education!

Coolest science thing you’ve done/been to/helped with/etc? While not very glamorous, the most fun I had was helping Dr. Livdahl’s lab at Clark University research the effects of interactions between native and invasive species of mosquito. We needed accurate measurements of the larvae to get estimates on population growth, so we utilized an environment consistently inviting for a mosquito to lay its eggs: tree holes! They’re dark, secluded, and offer the stagnant water larvae require. In practice, this meant exploring forests armed with a ladder and turkey baster. Much more enjoyable than the lab work that followed.

Without the staff, their ideas, research, dedication and teaching, we wouldn’t be able to help inspire the next generation and show them just how amazing the world around them really is! Remember to check the SMLI website ( for information about Holiday Workshop programs, summer camp and other programs we offer.

Hope to see you in the future and keep wondering about the world around you!

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