Christina Williams: Making Connections Through NW Noggin

Post by Christina Williams, Noggin volunteer and WSU Vancouver senior undergraduate, and aspiring behavioral neuroscience researcher (PTSD)

NW Noggin has tremendously enriched my undergraduate experience at Washington State University Vancouver, and has turned an otherwise ordinary academic experience into something far more rewarding and transformative. Noggin has connected me with a network of likeminded individuals who like myself are passionate about neuroscience and want to share that passion with others. I am sure I am not alone when I say that I have been searching for a place to fit in, and a way to become involved and network. NW Noggin has opened that door for me.

In Davenport, Washington:  Lost in a sea of parietal bliss

It wasn’t until I enrolled in a class called Art and the Brain, taught by Dr. Bill Griesar and Jeff Leake, that I first learned about NW Noggin. Bill and Jeff talked about the outreach they were doing with such enthusiasm and excitement, and I knew that NW Noggin was exactly what I had been looking for. I went to a volunteer event at a local high school and I recognized several students from WSUV. I also met undergraduates from OHSU and PSU that I hadn’t known previously. It seemed that everyone had some interest in neuroscience, but many people were also interested in biology, mathematics, psychology and art.

At HeLa High School:  The joys of networking and making lifelong connections

We were a colorful assortment of individuals from different backgrounds, but we all shared a passion for neuroscience and the same desire to engage and get involved. As I attended more Noggin outreach events I became more comfortable talking to people about the brain and what I was learning in school. I started getting more involved, and my public speaking skills began to improve. I came into NW Noggin with no prior neuroanatomy education, but I learned by watching and listening. I began to feel more confident in my ability to teach both simple and complex topics about the brain and convey them to people on multiple levels.

Amazing brain art produced by one of the children in my parietal group!

Being able to discuss and explain complex neuroscience topics with other adults can be challenging, but believe it or not it can be far more challenging to explain those same topics in terms that a kindergartener can understand and relate to. If you think your exam questions are hard, then you have never been asked a question about neuroscience from the perspective of a 3rd grader.

Children ask the greatest questions, as their minds are still uninhibited by the constraints of adulthood. There is so much that we can learn from them. Teaching can be challenging, as can learning, but that’s where many of the hands-on aspects and artistic approaches to teaching come in handy. This innovative approach to teaching is both simple and effective because it’s conducive to the way we learn.

At Shahala Middle School:  I was observing their interested faces  –  I love seeing that.

For instance, if you are trying to explain what a neuron is and how it works to a 2nd grader, or someone who has never seen one before it can be very difficult. However, if you take a few pipe cleaners and have them build it with you then it can become quite easy. Learning doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t need to be forced, learning can actually be a lot of fun if you allow it to happen naturally. That is one of the many reasons why NW Noggin continues to be successful.

Holding a real human brain and seeing it for yourself is far different than looking at pictures in a textbook. This hands-on approach to learning allows involvement and engages the learner in multiple ways. Being able to see and touch what you are talking about gives far better perspective to the learner, and context makes learning complex information far easier. There is hardly a better way to lean than this.

At Vancouver’s iTech Prep:  Sharing my passion for neuroscience. An activity I will never tire of.

NW Noggin has been an amazing networking tool. The more involved I become with NW Noggin the more people I meet, and the more opportunities I am given. I began to build relationships with individuals who, like myself, are very passionate about neuroscience, and I continued to meet new people as well. I have met and talked with many post doc students about their experiences with NW Noggin, as well as their journey through academia. Many of these individuals were on tracts similar to what I am pursuing. I have met several post docs that have been a part of Noggin since they were undergrads like myself.

Now when I attend a Noggin event I am not only looking forward to teaching people about the brain, which is something I am very passionate about, but I am also looking forward to meeting and networking with new people. Some of the other members of NW Noggin have become my good friends, and when we are all together it feels almost like a second family. We all care deeply about what we are doing and we share common goals, dreams and passions that bring us closer together. I know that I too will continue to be an active part of Noggin even after graduate school. I will have even more to share then, and my passion for neuroscience will never fade, nor will my desire to share it with others.

Becoming a part of the network! I was preoccupied looking at Joey’s pipe cleaner eye ball lol!  Look out, it’s the crazy neuroscience people and their buckets of brains!!! Hahah!

NW Noggin doesn’t just bring brains and education into classrooms, it beings inspiration and tells people that big dreams are not just possible, they are necessary. I happen to know how important it is to be inspired, and to have dreams that keep you going, as a child and as an adult. It is not always easy to find inspiration, especially when you are a child living in poverty and a broken home. It isn’t easy to have big dreams, especially when you are taught that survival is more important than education, and that the two are not synonymous. I speak from personal experience when I say that I know what that is like, and that I also know how important it is to have dreams for a better future and a better life. My dreams were a large part of what got me through a very rough childhood, and many of the rough years that followed. I can tell you that I would have given anything to have opportunity’s like those that NW Noggin brings to into classrooms. I want to give children those opportunities for inspiration, and the ability to reach out and touch their dreams, and see that they are not so impossible.

At Fort Vancouver High School:  Teaching, learning and having fun! (Yes, they can all happen at the same time, who knew!)

NW Noggin has provided me with incredible teaching and learning opportunities, and it still continues to do so. I have had the opportunity to do outreach at schools all over Vancouver and Portland, and I have now attended so many Noggin outreach events that I have officially lost count. However, it isn’t the numbers that matter, it’s the experiences and those I will never forget. I recently had the opportunity to attended a NW Noggin outreach event in Davenport Washington. Within a couple days there, we had shared neuroscience with nearly every child in that community, and the entire community was aware of our presence. It was clear that we had made a huge impact on them, and before we had even left they were already asking when we would be returning next.

Noggin also granted me the opportunity to attend some very interesting and informative lectures. Last September I attended the World Parkinson’s Conference in Portland Oregon. Then earlier this April, I attended a lecture on sleep, memory and dreams at the Newmark Theater. Those are only a few of the many things that I have had the opportunity to do since becoming involved with NW Noggin, and I know there will be many more to come. For instance, this coming November, I hope to accompany NW Noggin on their trip to the SfN conference in Washington DC. While there, we’ll ne doing a number of outreach events at local schools, and promoting neuroscience education and outreach at every available opportunity. So, needless to say, the opportunities provided by NW Noggin are pretty endless!

At the Newmark Theater for the OHSU Brain Awareness lecture on sleep

My involvement with NW Noggin has been the single greatest part of my undergraduate experience. It has given me opportunities that I would have never had otherwise. I have made connections within a network of likeminded individuals, and I know that many of those connections will be lifelong. I will never tire of this incredible and enriching experience.

At Fort Vancouver:  Teachers like brains too!

Quite honestly, I have never seen more passion and dedication in any other group of people. NW Noggin attracts those who are driven, passionate, and forward thinking. It’s like a magnet for success, and as the Noggin network continues to grow and gain new connections, its attractive force grows with it and continues to get even stronger. I know that I am a part of something great, and I am excited to see how far the Noggin network will reach.

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