UF neuroscience students lead local Brain Awareness Week outreach efforts

BAW2By Jackie Hart

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UF neuroscience students got back into classrooms at public schools across Alachua County during Brain Awareness Week, March 14 to 20.

During their visits, UF undergraduate and graduate students shared curious insights and fun facts about the brain to get kids excited about neuroscience. Throughout the week, the UF students, who belong to the North Central Florida Chapter of the Society of Neuroscience, traveled to 21 classrooms, engaging with more than 200 kids.

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“As a first-generation student interested in neuroscience, this is the type of event I wish I would’ve had when I was younger,” said Eliany Perez, chair of UF Brain Awareness Week and a second-year graduate student in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. “Not only is this a great opportunity for the kids to learn about the brain, but it is also a great opportunity for them to ask current college students questions about their academic careers and how they got to where they are.”

Coordinated by the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research, Brain Awareness Week is celebrated by more than 7,300 partners in 120 countries with a goal of raising public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

Under the guidance of faculty advisor Ronald J. Mandel, Ph.D., a professor in UF’s department of neuroscience, students led interactive games and hands-on demonstrations, such as a “super taster test” where kids place a strip of paper on their tongue to see who finds it bitter.

BAW4For the second year, the school children were provided bicycle helmets, courtesy of UF’s Brain Injury, Rehabilitation and Neuroresilience Center (BRAIN Center), to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the brain.

“Through our organization of Brain Awareness Week every year, the chapter hopes to communicate our passion for neuroscience to the North Central Florida community and hopefully inspire students to pursue a future career involving neuroscience,” said Sara Pickernell, president of the North Central Florida SfN chapter and a fourth-year graduate student in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience.

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