Raising Neuroscience Awareness in Alabama

By on January 16, 2014
The 3rd Annual Alabama Brain Bee winners and directors at UAB’s Edge of Chaos. Top 9 contestants were awarded “Brain Rules” by Dr. John Medina; the top 3 individuals received additional prizes. From back left to right: Sope Oguntuyo, Alice Zhang, Andrew Van, Jonathan Hurowitz, Frederick Stevens, Venkata Macha, Connor Staggs, Jaylen Pittman, Sasank Peramsetty, and Jinwoo Hur. From front left to right: Joshua Abreo, Madeline Lewis, and Richard Trieu.

To date, neuroscience remains one of the most dynamic research fields. Many of the gains made by scientists toiling daily in their laboratories contribute to foundational knowledge about neuronal interactions. This knowledge is then translated to increase our understanding of how we learn,  peculiar behaviors, and how to treat debilitating neurological conditions. Here at UAB –the only institution in Alabama to offer an undergraduate neuroscience program– undergraduate students coordinated the 1st Annual Alabama Brain Bee to encourage high school students to learn about neuroscience.

The Brain Bee is an international neuroscience competition that was founded by Dr. Myslinski in the late 1990s to “[motivate] our youth to learn more about the brain…We need their energy and their passion to help find cures for Autism, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injury and other brain disorders.”

Local competitions are free and consist of multiple choice and oral components. The local champion earns the opportunity to represent their region at the national –and, perhaps, the international– level. Over the course of three  days at the National Brain Bee, high school students meet prominent individuals in neuroscience-related fields. The national competition includes neuroanatomical practicals, neurohistological slide readings, patient diagnosis, and MRI reading components.

Since its inaugural year in 2011, where the coordinators handed out paper registration forms and welcomed 12 students representing 2 counties, the Alabama Brain Bee has grown. Working closely with UAB’s Undergraduate Recruitment Office and enthusiastic volunteers, the 3rd Annual Alabama Brain Bee attracted 40+ high school students from 11+ counties to the Edge of Chaos on the 4th floor of the Lister Hill Library. At the same time, last year’s coordinators orchestrated the efforts of about 25 volunteers to organize interactive activities for the students and their guests. Under the moniker “Neuroscience Day,” the day featured a neuroscience trivia for parents, a “build a neuron” booth for children, touchable brain exhibits, human vs. sheep brain exhibits, and cockroach beat box exhibits.

In line with UAB’s new branding campaign –“knowledge that will change your world”– this undergraduate venture proudly displays UAB’s prowess at two fronts: undergraduate student leadership and community outreach. Under the guidance of Dr. J. Michael Wyss of UAB’s Community OutReach and Development program and Dr. Diane Tucker of UAB’s Science and Technology Honors Program, the first local Brain Bee was the first to be coordinated solely by undergraduates. This feat involved raising over $6,000 in sponsorship over the past three years to provide breakfast, lunch, and an event T-Shirt free of charge to all contestants. Additionally, each year, the statewide winner earns an expense paid trip to Baltimore, Maryland, for the National Brain Bee. Inspired by the Society for Neuroscience conference, the directors of the 3rd Alabama Brain Bee also coordinated “Neuroscience Day,” which includes a community outreach component that engaged over 100 students, parents, and children.

On Saturday, February 22, 2014, UAB honors students will be hosting the 2nd Annual Neuroscience Day. The day will feature the 4th Annual Alabama Brain Bee and exciting activities designed to introduce Alabamians to the field of neuroscience. High school students interested in competing for the opportunity to represent Alabama at the National Brain must register by January 31st, 2014. The registration form, free study material, and more information can be found at www.uab.edu/brainbee. Coordinators can be contacted at brainbeeuab@gmail.com for any questions and/or comments.

Kasopefoluwa Oguntuyo

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