Local Middle School Students Get “Heady” Lessons

Posted in GUMC Stories

Earlier this month, more than 30,000 researchers from around the world gathered in New Orleans for the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). A vast majority attended to present or learn about new findings from ongoing brain research. But others, like Carrie Leonard (G’16), had an additional goal in mind.

“I love to teach,” says Leonard, a second year Georgetown graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience. She and dozens of others were invited to share their experiences during a poster session about Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign sponsored by SfN and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives observed each March.

“It’s a great place to share what you’ve done and collect ideas for the future,” Leonard explains. In fact, she says she developed her ideas for the Georgetown event after last year’s meeting.

Brain Awareness Week at Georgetown

In March, Leonard along with dozens of volunteer graduate students hosted 7th and 8th graders from Hardy Middle School for a day-long brainy experience.

Located just down the street from Georgetown University, Hardy has a minority enrollment that tops 85 percent. Leonard says this population of students in an urban public school often misses out on hands-on science education.

“We actually had too many students to do just one day,” Leonard proudly recalled, explaining that the group had to expand their program into two Thursdays, allowing a group of 50 students to attend each day.

“The coolest thing in the world.”

The students started their day at the Georgetown medical campus at 9:00 a.m. with an interactive lecture and discussion hosted by Karen Gale, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology. Leonard says Gale embraced her Brain Awareness Week idea from the very beginning and was critical to its overall success.

Gale introduced the students to what it means to be a neuroscientist and the difference between professions in the medical and research fields. She followed that with a gross overview of the brain’s anatomy and an introduction of some very fundamental concepts in neuroscience.

After lunch, the students began a rotation through 8 hands-on demonstrations all hosted by the volunteer students. These stations covered a range of concepts in brain health, attention, action potentials, reflexes and anatomy.

Leonard described one of the highlights of the day – a young boy destined to be a forensic scientist, inspired by TV shows like “CSI Miami.”

The youngster was in awe as he held a human brain in his hands. “I never thought I’d be ever to do something like this. This is the coolest thing in the world.”

Lesson Within the Lessons

Leonard explains an added benefit to the day.

She says many students are used to being bound by financial restrictions so an event like this “can open the opportunity for them to think about a life in science…. letting them know it’s possible and fun.”

“The kids get to hang out with the graduate students and see that they’re really smart but also really cool,” says Leonard. “It allows the kids to envision themselves in this kind of position in the future.”

Next Year

Leonard is already planning ahead to next year. She and fellow graduate student Summer Rozzi (G’16) received tremendous feedback at the Society for Neuroscience meeting on their poster describing the Georgetown brain awareness activities.

“The overall goal of brain awareness week is to raise awareness about brain research and positive outcomes from research and how it benefits society,” Leonard says. For the kids, though, the goal is much more focused.

“We want to get them excited about science, period.”

By Karen Mallet, GUMC Communications

(Published Oct. 24, 2012)