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Students become the teachers at Brain Awareness Week

Reflective mirrors, dead cats and ice cream can teach a lot about the human brain.

Ph.D. student in applied developmental science Brittany Taylor teaches high school students about how EEG can be used to diagnose epilepsy and seizures as part of Brain Awareness Week. (Photo credit: Madison Brandt)
Ph.D. student in applied developmental science Brittany Taylor teaches high school students about how EEG can be used to diagnose epilepsy and seizures as part of Brain Awareness Week. (Photo credit: Madison Brandt)

Brain Awareness Week is a program sponsored by Colorado State University in which CSU students lead high school students through fun, hands-on activities aimed to reveal the complexities and intricacies of the brain.

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Some of these activities include looking at real cat and human brains, learning about taste and flavor distinction while eating ice cream and using mirrors to simulate the effects of spatial awareness issues that many Alzheimer’s patients experience.

This year the event was held at Poudre High School and was open to all high school students, including one group of students who drove up from Boulder.

Some stations, like the one on visual perception where students get to identify optic blind spots and gaze at optical illusions, return every year. CSU students sometimes create other stations that make a one-time appearance at the event as part of their honors thesis project or independent research.

According to Brittany Taylor, a Ph.D. student in applied developmental science at CSU, she and other peers working in the CSU Brain Waves Research lab were asked to come to the event and present information about how EEGs can be used to diagnose epilepsy and seizures.

“We were really excited to come out for the event,” Taylor said. “I have wanted to do this for years and I finally get to.”

Ashley Turnidge shows off a cat head as part of an interactive display at Poudre High School during Brain Awareness Week. (Photo credit: Madison Brandt)
Ashley Turnidge shows off a cat head as part of an interactive display at Poudre High School during Brain Awareness Week. (Photo credit: Madison Brandt)

Leslie Stone-Roy, the organizer and head of the BAW program and biomedical professor at CSU, started out as a volunteer nearly 15 years ago.

According to Stone-Roy, she puts in 80 plus hours of work into organizing BAW and coordinating volunteers.

“Even though BAW is a lot of work, and I’m exhausted afterward,  I’m always glad that I did it,” Stone-Roy said. “Both my CSU students and the Poudre School District students get so much out of the small group interactions.”

Stone-Roy said this program is not limited to psychology or biology majors at CSU. Anyone who wants to participate can volunteer.

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Prior to the event, CSU students are trained to lead each neuroscience station, and are given tips on how to effectively communicate with high school students.

Alex Hughes, a veterinary medicine major at CSU, has participated in the program for two years now.

“I think one of the most important things is that (CSU students) get to practice presenting science, and I feel like a lot of students don’t get that opportunity,” Hughes said.

According to Ashley Turnidge, a biomedical Ph.D. student at CSU, another huge benefit of volunteering at BAW is being able to put it down on a resume when applying for grants or government funding for research.

“It is important to show that you want to extend knowledge to the public and that you have been active in outreach programs like this one,” Turnidge said.

However, Turnidge also said that she volunteers for BAW for more reasons beyond just being able to put it on her resume.

“You volunteer because you like it, and because it’s important for young people to learn about the brain and the field of neuroscience,” Turnidge said.

To find out more information about how to volunteer next year, contact Professor Leslie Stone-Roy.

Collegian Reporter Madison Brandt can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @Mademia_93.

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