Jobe Ritchie: I witnessed genuine engagement…

Post by Jobe Ritchie, Noggin volunteer from Portland State University

“The scholar struggles for the benefit of all humanity, sometimes to reduce physical effort, sometimes to reduce pain, and sometimes to postpone death, or at least render it more bearable.” -Santiago Ramón y Cajal

For better or worse, we are all human, and from our humanity stem the fascinating values, views, and opinions that shape how we understand our world. Neuroscience and psychology are continuously advancing our grasp of the complexity of the human condition and helping us explain how such disparate cognitive paradigms can form in the developing brain. Not surprisingly, with great opportunity for diversity of opinion comes the clashing of ideologies and a muddling of reality to a sometimes ludicrous degree, resulting in some individuals ignoring evidence and spreading misguidance via powerful elected positions. The situation we find ourselves in today requires research, outreach and education, to counter those who would choose to see the welfare of the planet and our nation’s children (our future) burnt to the ground if it meant their pockets remained plump with campaign donations.


Traveling to Washington D.C. with NW Noggin was an eye opening experience that tore down barriers I had built in my own mind, both about other people and myself. Each location we visited offered a lesson, with the common theme of shared human experience and potential. The Society for Neuroscience convention center itself was a massive, socially demanding experience that quickly overloaded my senses…

Fortunately, the NW Noggin booth was welcomed as a sanctuary of cathartic reprieve for many researchers and student guests alike. It was almost comical to consider the numerous times I took to explaining one of the structures of a neuron during my demonstration of pipe cleaner neuron building to an individual who had spent the last 20+ years doing neuroscience research… 🙂

Being surrounded by and interacting with such an awe inspiring amalgamation of great minds was humbling and rewarding, even if it seemed like our efforts at SfN were mainly preaching to the choir.

Sidwell Friends… Quite frankly, when faced with the impressive deluge of academic opportunity and scaffolding available to these students, I must admit I felt envious, not just for myself, but for the vast majority of students who do not have access to the same amazing programs. The students we interacted with were part of the school’s BRAIN club and were actively pursuing research projects using zebrafish, and they were able to present at the same conference I presented at too…

I am still awestruck by the impressive resources at Sidwell Friends, and working to reconcile within myself what it means to have high school students enjoying opportunities that I have to struggle for as a senior in college. More important than any implications towards myself, the display of enthusiasm and aptitude for neuroscience research I witnessed in these young scientists refreshed my belief in the next generation. Seeing the potential of optimized education demonstrated to me why our own science communication and outreach work in other places is so critically important.

Our visit to Turner Elementary School was, in my eyes, the crowning achievement and most valuable experience of the entire D.C. trip. During what was easily the loudest and most chaotic outreach experience for me to date, I was taken aback by the level headedness and caring disposition maintained by the teachers and other school staff. Meanwhile, as my wits felt like crumbling, and children whizzed from one station to the next, I saw the most incredible thing. I witnessed genuine engagement and interest put forth by the students towards a subject that they had never discussed before. They were getting excited by science and learning through NW Noggin’s arts-integrated curriculum to an extent that I did not expect given the apparently hectic environment. For me, this is what makes the work we put into neuroscience outreach worth all the effort. Bringing inspiration and opportunity to all students while they are still young and receptive can potentially offset other less promising paths and excite them about possibilities outside the scope they previously envisioned.

LEARN MORE: Serving 700 students at SfN!

My trip to Washington D.C. demonstrated to me the dichotomy of educational feast or famine and the importance of neuroscience and STEAM outreach efforts. While school visits like the ones put forth by NW Noggin cannot fully make up for disinvestment the rest of the school year, the programs we present do make a noticeable impact on the engagement of the students and faculty we are able to reach…

Hopefully, policy makers, such as those we spoke to during our congressional briefing, will take notice of the value outreach can provide and work towards funding future efforts. This trip further instilled in me the drive to push for better educational policies and funding for research, education and engagement to achieve a more informed human world.

LEARN MORE: From classrooms to Congress!

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