A Capitol Day: Brains in the House – and Senate!

Since December, we have collaborated with the American Brain Coalition, the incredible staff at Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici’s House offices, the Department of Psychology and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Portland State University, the Chair of the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience and Director of the OHSU Brain Institute at Oregon Health & Sciences University, the Department of Neuroscience and Chancellor’s Office at WSU Vancouver, and our wonderful friends at the Portland Art Museum and The Phillips Collection in DC, to arrange for a unique and exciting NW Noggin “Brains + Art” briefing and reception in the U.S. House of Representatives!


The House briefing and reception would not have been possible without the help of those listed above.  They not only co-sponsored the event, but supported our undergraduates and graduates so they could contribute to this extraordinary educational experience for an entire week in Washington, DC!


On Wednesday morning  –  after a busy Tuesday in DC public schools  –  we carried our well-traveled pipe cleaner neurons and boxes of nitrile gloves past security into the majestic Rayburn House Office Building for a high profile introduction to our considerable arts integrated neuroscience outreach efforts in the Pacific Northwest!


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Pic by Alex Voigt

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Pic above by Alex Voigt

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Pic above by Alex Voigt


We were guests of the House Neuroscience caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), and the House STEAM caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).  The room was packed, and the Society for Neuroscience was there to interview our student volunteers and record the briefing for their Brain Facts website.

READ MORE:  NW Noggin briefing invitation

We were introduced by Bobby Heagerty, former Director of the OHSU Brain Institute and a tireless and inspiring advocate for neuroscience research, education and outreach…

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Congressman Earl Blumenauer spoke passionately about the critical importance of federal investment in brain research, noting at one point how “more research and resources for neuroscience will have a transformational effect on all of us…”



Bill Griesar and Jeff Leake described Noggin’s extensive STEAM efforts to engage K12 students in Portland and Vancouver public schools, and the broader community, in discoveries about the nervous system, including compelling, federally funded research on opiate dependence, cannabinoids, hearing loss, implicit bias, alcoholism, and the developing adolescent brain…


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READ MORE:  House Brains + Art Briefing NW Noggin Intro Griesar

READ MORE:  House Brains + Art Briefing NW Noggin Intro Leake

READ MORE:  NW Noggin House Senate Briefing SLIDES

Ram Kandasamy, an accomplished Neuroscience graduate student from WSU Vancouver (in Washington State  –  not Canada!), and an active Noggin outreach volunteer in public schools, followed up with an introduction to WSU Vancouver, and noted the participation of the Chancellor, Mel Netzhammer, and the Associate Vice Chancellor of Research and Graduate Education, Dr. Christine Portfors.  Vancouver undergraduates Angela Gonzalez, Nathan Allen and Ben Yefimov then described their own research and outreach experiences, as did graduate students Phil Uribe and Elena Mahrt, and post-doctoral researcher Dr. John Harkness

READ MORE:  House Brains + Art Briefing WSUV Intro Ram

Erin McConnell, an accomplished Psychology graduate student from PSU, and an active Noggin outreach volunteer (who played the Scribe/hippocampus in “The Land of Cerebrum” at two DC public schools the day before), then introduced research, education and outreach at Portland State University.  She was followed by PSU undergraduates Rosalie Lee, Brianna Jacobs and Jacob Schoen, who discussed their work in labs, and in schools and the community, where they also regularly enthuse and inform, through arts, about the brain…

READ MORE:  House Brains + Art Briefing PSU Intro McConnell

Monique Smith, an accomplished Behavioral Neuroscience graduate student from OHSU, and an active Noggin volunteer who served as 2014 Site Coordinator for summer outreach at Franklin High School in Portland Public Schools, then introduced herself, and her institution.  OHSU graduate students Christie Pizzimenti, Brian Mills, and Vanessa Jimenez concluded with brief descriptions of their current, federally funded research, and their own participation in school and community outreach…

READ MORE:  House Brains + Art Briefing OHSU Intro Smith


Representative Suzanne Bonamici then spoke eloquently and directly about the importance of the arts in STEM education, an approach known as STEAM.  At one point she noted how she’d never heard an employer ask for someone who had passed a lot of standardized tests!


We ended the formal portion of the briefing, and enjoyed lunch, and the reception, and the chance to speak with briefing visitors from Congressional offices, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other federal agencies.  Brittany Wouden, a graduate of WSU Vancouver, set up a display for her innovative myBrain! app, and Dr. Paul Aravich was also very popular, with his table of human brains..!



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After our House briefing, we had only one hour to make it across the Mall to the U.S. Senate!  Thanks to Glynda Becker in Government Relations at Washington State University, we were also guests that day of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee in the Senate, co-chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)…

READ MORE:  NW Noggin Senate briefing invitation

Many of our Noggin folks hightailed it right across the Mall outside the Capitol…

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Pic above by Alex Voigt

A few of us, including Paul Aravich and the brains, rode special underground trains connecting House office buildings with the Capitol, and the Capitol with those office buildings used by the Senate!




This was a pretty exciting and unexpected side trip!



We eventually arrived at the Russell Senate Office Building, and quickly set up tables for our HELP briefing.  Bill and Jeff introduced NW Noggin to a room of Senate staff from the offices of Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Diane Feinstein and several others…


READ MORE:  Senate Brains + Art Briefing NW Noggin Intro Griesar

READ MORE:  Senate Brains + Art Briefing NW Noggin Intro Leake

Dr. Christine Portfors spoke about the extensive neuroscience research efforts underway at WSU Vancouver, and introduced the university Chancellor and the many impressive undergraduate and graduate researchers and outreach volunteers who accompanied us to DC.  Jonas Calsbeek, Caitlin Calsbeek, Kimberly Engeln, Courtney Miskell, Chelsey Taylor Anderson, Ram Kandasamy, and Brittany Wouden spoke about their work in labs, schools and the community at large…

READ MORE:  Senate Brains + Art Briefing WSUV Intro Portfors

Erin McConnell from PSU then introduced the extensive research and outreach efforts of the Psychology department at Portland State University.  Erin was followed by undergraduates Allie Clark, Alex Voigt, and Michael Miller, who spoke about their engagement in laboratories, and long histories of volunteering with K12 and the public in communicating discoveries in psychology and neuroscience…

READ MORE:  Senate Brains + Art Briefing PSU Intro McConnell

Christie Pizzimenti then introduced the critical work on drugs, memory, genetics and brain development from OHSU Behavioral Neuroscience in the Senate, and graduate students Monique Smith, Brian Mills and Vanessa Jimenez concluded with descriptions of their own research, education and outreach efforts in Oregon and Washington state…

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Pic above by Alex Voigt


After introductions, we enjoyed conversations about science education, research, and policy, and viewed the many brains that Paul had wheeled across Washington.  A terrific and productive day of outreach at the heart of Capitol Hill!


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