Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research,
College of Human Ecology,
Human Centered Design,
As science advances and we learn more about the human brain, researchers and educators are looking for ways to apply that knowledge to challenges in the real world. The intersection between science, education and policy was discussed in a panel and design-oriented workshop NEUROcuriosity: Connecting Art and the Brain, held on Dec. 8. The event was a collaboration between the Cornell Community Neuroscience Initiative and the Medium Design Collective and featured a panel of policy-makers, professors and community leaders.
The panel included Cornell professors Adam Anderson, Marlen González and Mardelle Shepley; Cornell Dean of Faculty and associate professor of psychology Eve De Rosa; Nan Eileen Mead, a member of the New York State Education Department’s Board of Regents; and Ph.D. student in psychology Senegal Mabry, a member of the Advisory Council of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.
“We need a way to emotionally connect with minds and brains.”
Throughout the talk, the panelists stressed the importance of integrating creativity into STEM education to engage students. They said the excitement researchers and academics feel about science often does not translate to a wider audience. “We need a way to emotionally connect with minds and brains,” said Anderson, professor of psychology. Anderson and González, assistant professor of psychology, mentioned that they often assign artistic final projects to students in their science classes to truly test their knowledge of the material.
Much of the event’s conversation centered on incorporating creative fields into STEM education in a way that celebrates the diversity of student minds. This is done by embracing cultural differences and neurodiversity in education. González stressed the importance of “accepting all people as they are and allowing them to contribute” so that the world can be a safer and more productive place for everyone.
The panelists are working outside of the university to make learning about the brain fun as well. De Rosa is one of the organizers of the “Get to Know Your Brain Days” program, in which undergraduate students go directly into the classroom to teach elementary-aged children in Syracuse the basics of neuroscience. Brain Days serves the dual purpose of introducing students to the brain and to college students who are passionate and knowledgeable about science. De Rosa says this interaction between the Syracuse students (who are often students of color) and mentors who look like them is especially important. De Rosa, Gonzalez and Anderson make up the executive committee of the Community Neuroscience Initiative, a recently created program with the goal to “remove barriers to empowered participation in neuroscience for all people.” There are planned activities such as an “Ask a Neuroscientist,” event, expanded Brain Days programming, and work with community organizations and policy makers to better the lives of all people.
Regent Mead shared her perspective on how to make these innovations in education possible. Policymakers have already designed systems for researchers, students, artists, and innovators to help inform their decision making. The call to action for researchers looking to fill gaps with their expertise is passionately communicating the science and the art to inspire policymakers. Mabry mentioned the importance of getting policymakers excited about the creative potential of science, so that they can push policies that accept and honor diverse brains with diverse interests.
After the panel, attendees had the opportunity to participate in some of the activities that students in these initiatives do. Among these “mind-intensive activities” was an art exercise in which students attempted to represent their brain pictorially, drawing the parts of their brain that are responsible for certain actions. These types of activities, Mabry says, turn neuroscience “from a highly technical field to something everyone can be a part of.” The other panelists echoed this vision of neuroscience education. Neuroscience is not just an academic field, De Rosa remarked, but a mechanism “to understand yourself, your emotions, your feelings, and your thoughts.”