Society for Neuroscience Science Education and Outreach Awards
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will present six 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.
“SfN is honored to recognize this inspiring group of neuroscientists for their work bringing science to the public and mentoring future neuroscientists in underserved communities,” said SfN President Barry Everitt. “They have found creative ways to share research with people of all ages through podcasts and books, as well as foster interest in STEM careers for middle school through undergraduate students.”
Award for Education in Neuroscience: Gillian Hue and Arshad Khan
The Award for Education in Neuroscience recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to neuroscience education and training. Recipients receive a plaque and complimentary registration to SfN’s annual meeting.
Gillian Hue, a lecturer in the neuroscience and behavioral biology program at Emory University, helped establish a neuroethics minor at Emory College, the first neuroethics minor at any college or university. She is involved in the Emory Tibet Science Initiative as the unit leader of the neuroscience track for the sustainability phase of the project and has led efforts in teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monastics since 2009. She leads responsible conduct of research training for students in the Spelman Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement program and is the executive managing editor of the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience, the field’s premier journal. Hue demonstrates a deep commitment to her students’ learning and success, making herself available at all hours, giving time-intensive, one-onone feedback to each student in her senior capstone course, and creating a safe space to tackle tensionfilled topics in her neuroethics courses. Her warmth, openness, and willingness to share her personal experiences makes her an extraordinary academic and life coach. Countless students, particularly students underrepresented in the sciences, have found community and engagement in science because of Hue’s encouragement and mentoring.
Arshad M. Khan, a neuroscientist and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), maps brain circuits involved in the control of motivated behaviors and the regulation of metabolic function. His work utilizes the latest state-of-the-art tools to study these circuits and also more traditional methods of neuroanatomical mapping that remain gold standards in the field but which are increasingly in danger of becoming "lost arts." A major strategy of his research, therefore, has been to train as many students as possible on these methods to ensure their preservation and widespread dissemination. He has mentored 86 undergraduate students and 15 graduate students in his Systems Neuroscience Lab since joining the UTEP faculty in 2011. He helped secure a multi-milliondollar grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to develop the "Program to Educate and Retain Students in STEM Tracks" (PERSIST), a STEM student-retention program. Within PERSIST, he created “Brain Mapping & Connectomics,” a laboratory course that provides first-year students with the opportunity to engage in authentic neuroanatomical research while also generating meaningful datasets for potential publication. Of the 100+ students enrolled in the course since its inception in 2014, nearly a dozen have continued on to graduate school, medical school, or other professional programs; over two dozen have joined Khan’s lab; and most have co-authored research abstracts or papers due to their work in the class. The demography of most students in the course is Hispanic and female, with one-fifth of them self-identifying as first-generation college attendees. Apart from teaching the lab course, Khan teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses in behavior and in systems neuroscience, and is currently serving as director of the UTEP neuroscience baccalaureate degree program. Khan also promotes neuroscience education internationally and has lectured for the International Brain Research Organization in Morocco, and welcomes international scientists and their trainees into his lab to learn methodology and techniques. A magnetic and inspiring teacher, he is able to connect with students through metaphors and storytelling, and his passion for scientific research is infectious, leaving a lasting impact on his students.
Science Educator Award: Stephen Macknik and Debra Yourick
The Science Educator Award is supported by the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization dedicated to advancing understanding about the brain in health and disease through research grants and public outreach. Recipients split a $5,000 prize.
Stephen Macknik, a professor of ophthalmology, neurology, and physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Health Science University, is a leading cognitive neuroscientist studying vision. In addition to his innovative research, he is an outstanding disseminator of neuroscience, prolific author, and promoter of science to the general public, showing how neuroscience and cognitive psychology can explain many phenomena people perceive every day. He has written over 400 publications including hundreds for Scientific American and its sister magazines around the world, such as his popular “Illusions” column in Scientific American Mind, and, along with his coauthor, three Scientific American Special Issues (the only such issues to be entirely written by a single pair of authors). One of his articles is the most downloaded article in Scientific American history. He has also written two bestselling popular science books: Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions and Champions of Illusion: The Science Behind Mind-Boggling Images and Mystifying Brain Puzzles. These books, linking illusions and magic performance art with science, are aimed at a general audience and have captured the attention of a wide range of readers, from ten-year old’s interested in magic, to quantum physics students and pastors working with sexual abuse victims who have been conned by their abusers. Macknik’s work has helped guide over 3,500 lawyers to shape how they can better advocate for their clients; for example, by understanding how crime victims can have inconsistent memories and how attention dictates what is “seen.” He also runs the annual “Best Illusion of the Year Contest,” now in its 16th edition, which popularizes issues of perception and introduces them to a wider audience. He has also hosted and participated in numerous activities that bring science to the public, such as museum exhibits, fundraisers, and public lectures in schools and libraries. Macknik’s combination of his cutting-edge research with his inventive way of making science engaging has undoubtably contributed to the growing interest by the public in neuroscience and the workings of the brain.
Debra Yourick, director of science education and fellowship programs at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), has led many efforts at promoting science education throughout her lengthy career. These include research internship and fellowship programs — High School Apprenticeship Program (HSAP), Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) and Army Fellowships within the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (www.usaeop.com) – as well as leading the Oak Ridge Institute of Science Education and National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Associateships (NASEM RAP) for her institute. Most important to her in the last 25 years is increasing equity and equality of access to science education. Yourick cofounded Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS), a now Army-wide summer STEM program for middle and high school students. GEMS removes barriers to access by providing stipends to cover food, transportation, and lost summer income, thus providing accessibility to high quality STEM learning for Black, Indigenous, people of color, potential 1st generation college, rural, neurodiverse, and other underserved participants. Yourick also recognized the benefits of young people being taught by their peers and created paid internship roles for local college-age mentors to teach GEMS, coining them “near-peer mentors.” Near-peer mentors are now part of mentoring and teaching in a broad variety of settings and research shows their effectiveness in both shifting the students’ attitudes toward science and creating lasting impacts on the mentors’ career outcomes. Yourick even hosts some of these mentors in her own home, becoming a life-long career advisor. In 2020, Yourick and her team developed a virtual version of the GEMS program, redesigning it with simple supplies available within students’ homes or for pickup. She also piloted a program to bring GEMS into local biology classrooms, now partnering with minority serving institutions to promote STEM education, where early results show improved attitudes toward learning science and increased potential to seek a science career. Thanks to programs developed by Yourick, in 2020 alone, around 3,000 students participated in GEMS programs nationwide, over 800 at WRAIR alone, and over 150 in beginning and advanced professional development opportunities.
Next Generation Award: Hilary Marusak and Sabin Nettles
The Next Generation Award recognizes SfN chapter members who have made outstanding contributions to public communication, outreach, and education about neuroscience. Each year one award is given at the junior faculty level and one award is given at the pre/postdoctoral level. The recipients each receive a $300 honorarium and their respective chapters receive a $2,000 chapter grant.
Junior Faculty: Hilary Marusak
Hilary Marusak, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Wayne State University School of Medicine, has created two initiatives to promote the general public’s understanding of science. Along with three of her students, she cofounded the Science Policy NetworkDetroit branch (SciPol-Detroit) and continues to serve as the faculty advisor. SciPol-Detroit aims to improve communication between lawmakers, scientists, and the general public through advocacy (e.g., letter-writing, lawmaker meetings), panels on important community issues, and science communication and advocacy training workshops. In its first year, 2020, it focused on addressing health disparities in Detroit, including water injustices and air pollution and helped pass a bill to prevent water shutoffs. Marusak also hosts and produces, with the help of two very talented trainees (Amanpreet and Manmeet Bhogal), the BrainSTEM podcast. Each episode interviews someone diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric disorder and an expert who studies or treats the disorder. The podcast helps to both educate the public and reduce stigma surrounding the discussed disorders. Additionally, both SciPol-Detroit and the BrainSTEM podcast provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to get involved in science communication and advocacy. Marusak’s efforts in these projects will continue to impact the next generation of neuroscientists as well as the community at large.
Pre/Postdoctoral: Sabin Nettles
Sabin Nettles, a doctoral student in neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, is also the co-director of the Brain Discovery program. The six-week program brings hands-on neuroscience education to fourth through sixth grade students in underserved schools in the St. Louis area. Nettles worked with over seventy classes, helped develop the curriculum, led recruitment and training of the graduate student teachers, and managed the logistics of the needed equipment. Through her work, Nettles has helped to provide Brain Discovery to over 1,000 students, fostering their interest in science and inspiring future neuroscientists. Because of her involvement in Brain Discovery and other outreach activities, such as the Amazing Brain Carnival, St Louis Brain Bee and Washington University’s ENDURE program, Nettles saw a need for a consolidated source of administrative support and growth for these programs. She established and took on the role of St Louis Neuroscience Outreach (STLNO) coordinator to support and promote the various neuroscience outreach programs at Washington University. Through this role, Nettles hopes to continue to expand the scope of the programs to reach more young students and underserved communities in St Louis.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system.