Strength in numbers: our new team members

WFSU Education has been going through many staff changes lately and we are happy to announce the addition of our two newest members, Cassidy and Lauren. Read on to learn more about them in their own words.

Lauren Penniman

young woman in red shirt

New to WFSU: Lauren Penniman

Hi there! My name is Lauren and I was born in Michigan and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. I spent my childhood riding horses, reading books, and painting. When I was not doing one of those things, I was watching a PBS KIDS show! Some of my favorites were Barney, Dragon Tails, and Arthur.

I moved to Florida when I was in high school and went on to attend Florida State University for both my undergraduate and graduate programs. I received my bachelor’s degree in elementary education and my master’s degree in curriculum and instructional design. During my time at FSU, I rowed for the FSU Crew Team and loved every minute of it. I also love traveling and getting to experience new cultures, food, and architecture from all over the world. Italy and Switzerland are some of my favorite places I have been to.

I am very passionate about helping children in the community by giving them the tools they need to be great readers, curious learners, and wonderful friends. I have always known that I want to work with children in some capacity and that has led me to many experiences that shaped me to be where I am today. I have been a camp counselor, a coach, a teacher, and now an Education and Engagement Specialist at WFSU Public Media. I am so excited to reach people in the Tallahassee community and inspire children to love learning and exploring!

Cassidy Zhang

As the daughter of an educator, the world has always been my classroom. My mom would read books to us before bed, but even on an everyday trip to target to Target, she’d have me and my brother playing spelling games and “I Spy” or sounding out the names we saw on signs and stores along the way. We read, we played, we counted, we told stories, and when it was time for my mom to go back to work, we would spend time in her classroom during Teacher Planning Week. It was there that my mom taught us that her job as a teacher was more than academics.

For 30 years, my mom taught middle school language arts, and over the course of her career she had many students with tough home lives—kids whose parents didn’t read to them every night or have the means to go to Target, kids who might not have even had a sure sense of “home.” These kids were always on my mom’s radar. She would stockpile school supplies, extra clothes, and snacks for them. What is more, she involved us in the process so that we learned about the plight of so many children and families around us and our responsibility to give back.

Growing up I aspired to be a vet. I wanted to help hurt and/or abandoned animals, but my freshman year of high school biology class left me questioning this dream. I found that I was actually rather squeamish. I would beg my teacher not to feed the mice to the class snake (I even offered to pay him for the mice, so I wouldn’t have to live with knowing I played a part in mouse murder), and while of course he never listened to me (because hello, the circle of life), he soon became one of my favorite teachers. He asked hard questions, facilitated fun experiments, and showed personal care for his students. I left his class thinking that helping animals might be out for me, but that perhaps by teaching I could inspire and help people instead.

Throughout high school I was actively involved in my youth group where I continued to grow in my passion to teach and help others in need. Though a student myself, I would lead my peers in Bible studies. I also tutored a couple of younger girls in the group in math. It was during this time I found that I loved sharing what I had learned or aiding others in their own discovery. I enjoyed finding ways to simplify concepts or come up with songs and tricks to make learning easier. In addition, my youth group would take mission trips every summer. We served at homeless shelters, children’s homes, rehabilitation centers, and more. With every trip, my desire to serve others grew, and I started dreaming of the possibility of becoming a missionary.

a woman and two children in school uniform

Two beloved girls at their new school in Uganda.

happy woman and happy dog

My Ugandan dog, “Biscuit” (after the children’s book series), who traveled back home with me.

During college, I continued teaching and serving in different roles and was gaining an interest in doing so overseas, which ultimately led to me pursuing a degree in elementary education. I didn’t necessarily see myself as a classroom teacher; I just knew I wanted to be able to help children and families in need and believed in the opportunities afforded by education. Upon graduating, I worked part-time at a local coffee shop to learn more about fair-trade, and part-time with WFSU to continue working with children. I loved the scope of the work and people reached by WFSU. The following year, I interned with an inner-city children’s ministry in Brooklyn, New York, where I gained a TON of teaching experience and skills while engaging with poverty and those trapped in it in a way I never had before. Soon after I took my first trip to Uganda, where poverty took on a whole new meaning.  Yet, while it looked different, I noticed that it came with many of the same problems—a big one being a lack of quality education.

Since that initial trip to Uganda, I have done that thing I thought I’d never do, be a classroom teacher, not once, not twice, but three times! I taught at a missionary/ex-pat kid school there for a year, and not long after returning to the States was faced with the pandemic that resulted in a desperate need for teachers, so I taught again. Teaching during the pandemic opened my eyes to the state of education in my own country—literally in my own backyard—and the ever-widening learning gaps we will be working hard to close for years to come. This year, I decided not to return to the classroom, but instead focus on playing a part in addressing this need by coming back to join the work at WFSU.

To sum it up, I have been around the world and back again and learned that there is nothing quite as valuable as families and educators who are equipped and excited for the task of investing in the next generation. I am so excited for this opportunity to work alongside a team who serves our community and values learning—in and outside of the classroom— and to employ my experiences in education and my passion to help children and families in a whole new way.