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Neuroscience Outreach Program gives back to the community

Graduate students often want to bring their research to the broader community. The Neuroscience Outreach Program at Queen’s University enables students to do exactly that.

[Neuroscience Outreach Program]
A group of young students 'dissect brains' with the Neuroscience Outreach program as part of Brain Awareness Day. (University Communications)

The student-run volunteer organisation allows students from a variety of disciplines to bring their expertise to several different programs. These include lectures for seniors and the general public as well as short educational programs for kids. Participating students work together in a team, providing an opportunity to get to know their colleagues at Queen’s. They also extend their knowledge and expertise by translating scientific research to diverse groups in a meaningful way.

Catherine Normandeau, a PhD candidate in neuroscience, co-ordinates the Brain Badge program and trains volunteers. The Brain Badge is a pilot program which allows participating students to visit scout groups in Kingston and other local communities. Each session is adapted to the kids in the group and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. During the session, student volunteers first teach kids about the brain’s function. Kids are then able to participate in a hands-on activity smashing cauliflowers.

Ultimately, the program teaches kids about the importance of brain safety and wearing a helmet. Ms. Normandeau particularly enjoys interacting with the kids and finds their input highly stimulating and recognizes the importance of fostering a strong connection between Queen’s and the local community.

Another PhD candidate in neuroscience, Ashley Parr is on the executive team for public lectures and has been speaking to seniors groups for the past four years. She does this in order to spread awareness about degenerative diseases and strokes and to teach the public about brain plasticity and encourage adult learning.

Like other students in the program, she also helps out during one-off activities such as Brain Awareness Day and the SEEDS enrichment course. Brain Awareness Day is a one-day event where about 160 Grade 5 students learn about the brain through hands-on activities. The SEEDS enrichment course gives about 30 Grade 7 and 8 students the opportunity to learn more intensively about neuroscience over the course of a couple of days.

Ms. Parr says she hopes the programs will promote the sciences and encourage kids to think about pursuing careers in science. She enjoys seeing both adults and kids getting excited about science.

By taking part in the Neuroscience Outreach Program, students help the community in a number of ways. The programs for kids both teach about brain safety and encourage those kids who are interested in science. The programs for adults build awareness of degenerative cognitive diseases and help reduce stigma. With students like Ms. Parr and Ms. Normandeau at the helm, the Neuroscience Outreach Program will no doubt continue to thrive into the future.

This article was first published on the website of the School of Graduate Studies.