Society for Neuroscience 2022 Science Education and Outreach Awards
SAN DIEGO, CA – The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will present eight neuroscientists with this year’s Science Education and Outreach Awards, comprising the Award for Education in Neuroscience, the Science Educator Award, and the Next Generation Awards. The awards will be presented during SfN’s annual meeting.
“The Society is honored to recognize this inspiring group of neuroscientists for their efforts to bring neuroscience to underserved communities, around the world, and in their own backyards,” SfN President Gina Turrigiano said. “They found creative ways to reach the community even in the midst of a global pandemic, to help improve STEM education, provide opportunities to engage in hands-on experimentation, and spark interest in neuroscience and future science careers in the next generation of talent.”
Award for Education in Neuroscience: Francisco Fernandez de Miguel and Clark Lindgren
The Award for Education in Neuroscience recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to neuroscience education and training. Recipients receive complimentary registration, travel, and accommodations for SfN’s annual meeting.
Francisco Fernandez de Miguel, a professor of neurosciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, has taught students from high school to postgraduate levels in 159 neuroscience courses in Mexico, the United States, Latin America, and Europe. De Miguel has organized and directed numerous science education programs, outreach activities, and specialty workshops. He served as an instructor for a summer course at the Marine Biological Station of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, as well as a professor for postgraduate courses in Spain and Ukraine. Through the International Brain Research Organization Visiting Lecture Team Program, he organized and taught courses in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia. Undergraduates, medical students, and research workers from different countries attended daily lectures and carried out experiments, inspiring many of them to pursue doctoral studies in different countries. His courses in Bolivia — which covered all the attending students’ expenses — were so impactful that he went on to organize the Bolivian Society for Neurosciences, which now boasts over four hundred members. De Miguel also developed, obtained funding, and directed the Experimental Laboratories for Science Education, a program aimed at general high school students — not only those interested in science — and their teachers. More than 22,000 attendants have gone through the program, which allows students to propose scientific questions and carry out experiments to test their hypotheses. De Miguel also worked with an art historian to create a unique exhibit that combined neuroscience with art: attendants to a museum were invited to have their brain responses recorded while looking at the art, another way to get the general population interested in the brain. De Miguel has also helped write, review, and edit a number of textbooks, including From Neuron to Brain, and serves as an associate editor of Frontiers in Physiology. His ability to communicate advanced topics in a clear manner not only inspires interest in neuroscience, but his personality also makes students from international backgrounds feel at home.
Clark Lindgren, a professor of neuroscience at Grinnell College, has changed the direction of numerous students’ lives by helping them see that they can become scientists. He is adamant about making authentic, interdisciplinary training in science accessible to all students. To that end, he was an early faculty director of the Grinnell Science Project, a week-long pre-orientation program that has tripled the number of students of color majoring in science and doubled the number of women. President Obama awarded the project the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring in 2011. Lindgren also led the development of the Upside-Down Curriculum, which replaced traditional introductory biology courses with full hands-on immersion in the research process. Also, working with colleagues, he helped create an interdisciplinary neuroscience concentration at Grinnell, now the largest concentration on campus, and has been involved in the Liberal Arts in Prison Program, where he teaches inmates at the Newtown Correctional Facility. He is a well-loved professor, with students camping out to ensure they get into his classes, and was Iowa Professor of the Year in 2015. His gentle, affable demeanor encourages questions and deep engagement with the material, while his ability to connect with students from all backgrounds helps them discover their passion for science and guides them in learning the skills they need to succeed.
Science Educator Award: Randy Blakely and Tessa Hirschfeld-Stoler
The Science Educator Award is supported by the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization based in New York dedicated to advancing neuroscience and society by supporting cross-disciplinary intersections such as neuroscience and ethics, law, policy, humanities, and arts. The award honors two neuroscientists who have made significant contributions to educating the public about neuroscience: one who conducts education activities fulltime and one who devotes their time primarily to research while conducting outreach, policy, and education activities. Recipients receive $5,000 and complimentary registration, travel, and accommodations for SfN’s annual meeting.
Randy D. Blakely, a neuroscientist at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and executive director of the Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, has made major contributions to our understanding of neurotransmitter systems in the brain and their links to mental health and mental illness. He is also a deeply passionate and creative educator interested in expanding the public’s knowledge of the brain and mental health and reducing the stigma of mental illness. Previously, Blakely served as the director of the Vanderbilt University/NIMH Silvio Conte Center for Neuroscience Research and emphasized programming related to community education, inspiring NIMH to award Conte Centers supplementary funding for such community components. He developed the interactive brain exhibit Brain Matters while at Vanderbilt University and served as lead scientific advisor for “Journey Through the Human Brain,” a permanent museum exhibit at the West Palm Beach Cox Science Center that tells the story of the human brain, from the molecular level to the integrated circuitry that reveals how the brain informs our senses and creates our thoughts and emotions. Since opening in 2019, the exhibit has served over 500,000 children and adults with engaging, interactive, and understandable installations. Blakely has created countless other programs to bring cutting-edge science to lay audiences, including the month-long Brainstorm program at Vanderbilt University and, more recently, the Brainy Days program at FAU. He inspires the next generation of scientists by reaching them at all levels: at FAU, he launched ASCEND (Advancing STEM: Community Engagement through Neuroscience Discovery), an innovative program that introduces brain science to middle school students while providing financial support to postdocs, graduate students and undergraduates who engage in community education; created the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program at Vanderbilt University, which focused on exposing promising undergraduate students to cutting-edge neuroscience research; helped found neuroscience doctoral programs at both Vanderbilt University and FAU, and created the Summer Undergraduate Neuroscience Scholars Program (SUNS) to offer online research engagement activities to compensate for the loss students experienced with hands on research during the COVID-19 epidemic. Among many other awards, he received the 2015 Delores C. Shockley Award for Partnership Minority Career Development, a testament to his commitment to reaching and training individuals from underrepresented and underserved groups. While at Vanderbilt University, he regularly mentored minority trainees and faculty at Fisk University and at the Meharry Medical College. His passionate commitment to training, mentoring, and outreach has inspired both the next generation of neuroscientists and the community at large.
Tessa Hirschfeld-Stoler, M.Phil, is a senior community scientist at BioBus, a non-profit science outreach organization based in New York City. Since 2008, BioBus has provided hands-on STEM exploration to more than 350,000 students. After her graduate research in developmental neuroscience at Columbia University, Hirschfeld-Stoler joined BioBus full-time in 2016. She works primarily in Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx, some of the lowest-income areas in New York City where schools have limited budgets for science and few opportunities for experiential learning. She has designed neuroscience curricula, leads their science research internship programs, taught lessons to K-12 students, and fostered a connection with Columbia University, allowing students to visit labs and be mentored by Columbia researchers. Several of her high school students have gone on to work in those researchers’ labs and pursue undergraduate studies in neuroscience at Columbia.
She leads interactive public events; after-school, weekend, and summer neuroscience classes for elementary and middle-school students; field trips to BioBus’s community lab at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute; and science research internships for high school and college students. With the help of neuroscientist mentors like Tessa, BioBus junior scientist interns pursue their own research questions while also building science communication skills by guiding younger students through experiments, helping them envision themselves as neuroscientists someday. Hirschfeld-Stoler trains post-doctoral fellows and graduate student researchers who serve as volunteer scientist mentors, helping to improve their science communication and provide them with impactful outreach opportunities. Hirschfeld-Stoler also developed the Women in STEM science research internship program for high school students in Harlem who identify as women.
With 14 years of experience in science outreach, Hirschfeld-Stoler demonstrates a long-term dedication to neuroscience education and engagement for young women, low-income communities, and students of color. Her limitless energy, deep knowledge of neuroscience research, culturally relevant pedagogy, and level of caring toward every individual student has empowered countless students from underrepresented groups to see neuroscience research as a possibility for their future.
Next Generation Award: Elizabeth Engler-Chiurazzi, Knowing Neurons (Arielle Hogan and Alba Peris-Yagüe), and Kimberly Fiock
The Next Generation Award recognizes SfN chapter members who have made outstanding contributions to public communication, outreach, and education about neuroscience, typically at the high school level or below. The recipients each receive a $300 honorarium and a $750 travel award to help defray the costs of attending the meeting, and their respective chapters receive a $2,000 chapter grant.
Junior Faculty: Elizabeth Engler-Chiurazzi
Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Engler-Chiurazzi, and assistant professor in the Clinical Neuroscience Research Center and Department of Neurosurgery at Tulane University, has engaged in community outreach, particularly to under-represented groups, since graduate school. As a graduate student at Arizona State University, she collaborated with her graduate mentor, Heather Bimonte-Nelson, to organize an annual “Brain Fair” for fourth and fifth graders, which served a largely Hispanic community. She also mentored first-year underprivileged students in their transition to college. At West Virginia University, along with graduate student, now Tiffany Petrisko, Engler-Chiurazzi led the Feed Our Brains program, where she gave fourth graders nutritional neuroscience presentations and raised funds to pay down school meal debt. During the COVID pandemic, the program assembled 2,300 STEM activity packets for students in rural areas that lack reliable internet access. At Tulane University, she launched the Books & Brains-New Orleans program to donate neuroscience books to library partners within racially diverse communities. Engler-Chiurazzi was also named an If/Then Ambassador and a statue of her likeness is currently on display at museums around the country to inspire the next generation of scientists. Since 2006, Engler-Chiurazzi has impacted more than nine thousand children, trainees, and community members through her outreach efforts and she will continue this impact as the newly appointed Tulane Brain Institute Director of Community Outreach.
Pre/Postdoctoral: Knowing Neurons (Arielle Hogan and Alba Peris-Yagüe) and Kimberly Fiock
Knowing Neurons is one of the world’s largest student-led neuroscience education and communications platforms and has reached over 1.2 million readers worldwide. The team behind Knowing Neurons develops engaging and simple educational content — such as articles, infographics, podcasts, and videos — that they personally disseminate to local communities in Los Angeles County and post online to be accessible to the rest of the world. They have recently partnered with the Brain Research Institute at UCLA to translate their materials into Spanish. This project is led by Arielle Hogan, a neuroscience graduate student at the University of California Los Angeles and the current CEO of Knowing Neurons, and Alba Peris-Yagüe, a neuroscience graduate student at the Autonomous University of Madrid and the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Translating the Knowing Neurons catalogue of accessible neuroscience materials will not only benefit the local Los Angeles community, where about thirty-nine percent of the population identifies as Hispanic, but also the wider international community, helping the program reach its goal of having neuroscience as a topic of conversation around every dinner table.
Kimberly Fiock, a graduate student at the University of Iowa’s Experimental Pathology Program, created The Path PhD (@thepathphd) Instagram page to improve understanding and appreciation of the role of neuropathology in neuroscience and to excite students, particularly from under-represented communities, about careers in neuropathology and neuroscience. She started the account during the COVID pandemic in 2020 and it now has over 21,000 followers and has reached over two million people worldwide. Fiock posts both static images with detailed explanations and brief videos that outline key concepts in the pathology and science of neurodegenerative diseases, such as how Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed or how donated brains are used for research. This work has led to invitations to give over fifteen different talks, in addition to several podcast interviews, outreach events, and mentorship opportunities. These talks, both via Zoom and in-person, have reached students from elementary school to high school, in places as far as the United Kingdom and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system.