Synapsing with Summer @ SAIL!

The Summer Academy to Inspire Learning (SAIL) is a Portland State University program (modeled after the original SAIL program at the University of Oregon) that partners with Youth Engaged in Science (YES!) in the Fair Neuroimaging Lab at OHSU

SAIL’s mission is “to encourage promising under-privileged middle and high school students on a path to college.”  The values guiding this program are intimately familiar to our Noggin volunteers, and include “interdisciplinary education, community outreach, and socially responsible attitudes including financial and environmental sustainability…”



An interdisciplinary approach, of course, is built into our nonprofit DNA.  Arts integration makes learning personally relevant. It allows open ended exploration of scientific concepts, and offers science teachers a broader palette from which they can differentiate lessons. This cross-disciplinary collaboration is also valuable to artists, who often use their skills to explore and enhance work in other fields…

We brought quite a crowd of diverse and enthusiastic outreach volunteers to the Old Library Auditorium at Oregon Health & Science University, to meet with 9th – 12th graders from Portland Public Schools

Participants included several from “Pill Hill,” including John Mootz, Jessica Patching-Bunch and Denesa Oberbeck, and the SAIL OHSU Program Coordinator (Captain?) Binyam Nardos, who is also the Noggin Resource Council member for OHSU…

Our PSU contingent was also robust, with Ian Anderson, Gaile Parker, Jordan Ray, Firas Saad, Aliese Poole, Rebekah Hough, Jennifer Jensen, Thomas Madison and Leota Wolford joining the crew for brains and art.  Christina Williams, the Noggin Resource Council member for Instagram, and Joey Seuferling, the Resource Council member for healthcare and hospitals, were also present to talk neuroanatomy..!

We began with introductions  –  and it is always a treat to discover what everyone is doing in their classrooms and labs!  Students learned about research on alcohol and methamphetamine use disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (and its many forms), and  –  in a room with all white (and mostly male) faces peering down from framed portraits  –  fascinating work by Binyam on the influence of context on race perception, a topic that is potentially relevant for discussions about race disparities in the current state of law enforcement in the United States….

LEARN MORE:  New research looks at the influence of race and emotional context on face perception

LEARN MORE:  Perceived Threat Associated with Police Officers and Black Men Predicts Support for Policing Policy Reform

This prompted a fascinating discussion of why stereotypes exist in the first place, and why we often jump to conclusions.  Quick decisions, snap judgments, implicit assumptions help us get through our day more efficiently, without expending extra effort or energy to challenge gut predictions or pre-existing beliefs…

Remarkably, brief presentations of black faces, as opposed to white faces  –  even when these faces aren’t consciously perceived by experimental subjects  –  can “prime” a faster assessment of objects as guns or other threats.  Mistakes are more likely too;  that is, objects are more often mis-identified as weapons when a black man’s face is presented beforehand.

LEARN MORE:  Prejudice and perception: The role of automatic and controlled processes in misperceiving a weapon

LEARN MORE:  NIH on Implicit Bias

EXPLORE:  Are you biased too?

Jessica then introduced students to neurons, and we considered the cells that make up our nervous systems  –  and link sensory detection to perception, cognition and both implicit and more deliberative behavioral response…

We also noted the inhibitory influence of alcohol on frontal lobe networks essential for deliberation, and for considering consequences when making complex social decisions.  Denesa brought out a few mouse brains for students to examine, and explained how she explored the actions and effects of this popular drug in rodents and macaques in Robert Hitzmann’s lab at OHSU…

LEARN MORE:  Denesa Oberbeck research papers

We then donned gloves to handle some human brains..!

…and picked up rollers, plants and gels to make our own neuron prints!

Many thanks to SAIL for inviting our Noggin volunteers!  We enjoyed working with all the young artists and neuroscientists up at OHSU, and look forward to new portraits on the walls… 🙂

LEARN MORE:  A look back at SAIL, the Summer Academy to Inspire Learning

Brains & Art with NW-NOGGIN

The final day of the SAIL camp started with a “Brains & Art” session with the North West Neuroscience Outreach Group Growing In Networks (NWNOGGIN).

image4NWNOGGIN volunteers and Dr. Bill Griesar, co-founder of the outreach program, came equipped with real human brains and supplies for constructing neuroscience inspired art, such as pipe-cleaner neurons.

SAIL students spent the morning talking about a variety of neuroscience topics ranging from how alcohol and other psychoactive drugs such as methamphetamine affect the brain, to discussions of neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, and conversations about the effects of emotional context and race on face perception.

SAIL 2017 culminated with conversations between our students and a career panel composed of several members of the NW NOGGIN outreach group as well as members of the Fair Neuroimaging Lab who were at different stages of their careers.

Students had a chance to hear about the different trajectories followed by each of the panel attendees that led to their current position. The students learned that there was no clearly defined path to becoming a neuroscientist; instead different types of training, be it in computer science, biological sciences, psychology, and biomedical engineering can all prepare one for a successful career as a neuroscientist.

Another constant theme that emerged from the discussions was the importance of identifying and establishing close connections with multiple mentors, be it for career advice or just to discuss challenging life issues. They learned about the instrumental role that mentors played in the lives and careers of the panel attendees.

Our discussions concluded with a message from me encouraging them to maintain the connections established in SAIL 2017, and affirming that the door is always open for the students if ever they need career guidance in the future.

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