Monday, December 3, 2012

The UAA Brain Bee: A New Look at the Neuroscience of the Brain!

Caroline Wilson, an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences and faculty with WWAMI, found a way for UAA students and Anchorage high school students to get interested in a particular kind of science - an enrichment opportunity that gets to the base of who we are and why!  The Brain Bee is an internationally recognized program that was founded by Dr. Norbert Myslinski at the University of Maryland.  It motivates students to learn about the brain, to capture their imaginations and inspire them to pursue careers in biomedical brain research Currently there are 150 locations worldwide that hold Brain Bees, and in 2011, UAA joined them! 
Brain Bee participants
Professor Wilson came to UAA from Dennison University, which had a very big Brain Awareness Week as a part of their regular programming.  Upon arriving here in Anchorage, she heard about the opportunity for community engagement grants when she and this Director met at the Cross Cultural Immersion Project sponsored by the Alaska Humanities Forum.  Wilson added the community engagement component to her Biology A490 class and set goals for the first Brain Bee:
1) Enrich the high school curricula to an understanding of the neuroscience of the brain.
2) Implement community engagement in a Bachelor of Science undergraduate setting.

One issue that arose immediately was the difficulty of creating an entree into the high school science program, but Polaris High School was very interested.  There were 30 UAA students, and they had the choice of going out to present information to the high schoolers, assisting at the Brain Bee event in March, or making posters about the brain for a library poster display.  Wilson laughs about the difficulty in planning a new event when you're not a planner! 
The Brain Bee incorporates 10 short answer questions from a guide that is used internationally, and 3 UAA faculty functioned as the judges.  Eight high school students participated from six area high schools, and cash prizes of $100, $75, and $50 were given to the top three students.  The second annual Brian Bee is scheduled for February 16, 2013 with plans for more student participation on both the high school and university sites!  The winner this year will travel with a parent to the National Brain Bee competition in Washington D.C. just a few weeks after the Anchorage competition.

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