From  participants, teachers, professors

April, 2019

Kameron Clayton, CVU 2010, 2011 VBB alum, PhD candidate in Acoustic Neuroscience, Harvard University,

Bringing neuroscience to high school students in rural communities, such as those in Vermont, is a formidable challenge, given the resources required to do so in an effective and engaging way. As a high school student growing up in Hinesburg, I received little exposure to neuroscience through my coursework. Luckily for me, and now many other students, the VT brainbee was created in my Junior year of high school, 10 years ago. By leveraging the expertise and resources of the UVM neuroscientists, Lisa has created a treasured educational experience, one which led me to pursue neuroscience as a career. That first brain bee was mind-opening to me, from exposure to fundamental concepts such as how neurons communicate with each other, to learning brain anatomy from real (cadaveric ) human brains. My brain bee experience led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in neuroscience at Boston University, and now a PhD in Auditory Neuroscience at Harvard University. For me, like many other students, pursuing neuroscience did not require convincing, but the early exposure I received at the Vermont Brain Bee  was crucial to realizing just how exciting life could be at the frontier of understanding the brain. 

Jonah Lefkoe, 2014 VBB winner, 2013, 2012 participant, Middlebury Union High School

Participating in the Vermont Brain Bee was one of the most important experiences of my high school career. The academic challenge of preparing for the Bee and the opportunity to lead brain awareness outreach in local elementary schools were personally formative for me. Vermont Brain Bee allowed me to pursue my intellectual passion for neuroscience, and the work that I did in connection to my high school neuroscience club was vital for my admission to college. Though I ultimately decided not to major in neuroscience, I am convinced that enrichment programs like Vermont Brain Bee are essential for expanding Vermont high school students’ collegiate prospects and academic vistas.

Vilena Lee, senior, Burlington High School, 3rd place VBB 2018, 1st place VBB 2019

My name is Vilena Lee, and I am a senior at Burlington High School. Last year, I competed in the Brain Bee and placed 3rd overall. I first got interested in neuroscience in seventh grade science class after doing a case study in Parkinson’s Disease. I got to see the brain in the point of view of a neurologist, and I found it fascinating how each part of the brain correlated to a different function that we use everyday that we don’t think about. I began to learn more about the brain by reading library books and completing biology labs when I first entered high school. I’ve been studying neuroscience ever since.

In school, I am the president of the BHS Neuroscience Club. We meet every Wednesday to prepare for the Vermont Brain Bee, using flashcards, quizlets, kahoots, and 3D brain models. Outside of school, I do neuroscience research at Saint Michael’s College, where I cut sections of brains and analyze the growth of neurons. I am also a member of the International Youth Neuroscience Association, where I submit journal entries and edit the submissions of other students. I’ve published articles like “The Brain of a Honeybee” and “The Neuropharmacology of Schizophrenia”. I’m also a member of the MYELIN Initiative, a program designed to create a free online neuroscience curriculum available to high school students.

After college, I plan to go onto graduate school and receive a PhD in either cognitive neuroscience or computational neuroscience. I want to become a neuroscientist and learn how the brain works even further in depth. I’d love to help create further understanding of the brain and assist the medical industry in developing new procedures and instruments to help those with neurological disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

Erik McLasaght, senior, Mt Abe Union High School, VBB participant 2017, 2018, 2019

My introduction to Neuroscience and to the Vermont Brain Bee (VBB) has opened a level of interest and exploration that I have previously not experienced. My first year entering my school’s Brain Club I instantly found a place where individuals strived to learn more about how the brain operated and what truly makes every one of us special. Participating in my first VBB gave me this feeling on an even larger scale. Seeing students from across the state all engaged in a specific field prompted me to learn and prepare even harder for the next competition.

This passion transferred to other areas of my life, and by participating in the VBB I have grown to love to teach others. This year I engaged in the role of President for our Neuroscience club. Here, I taught my fellow peers the wonders of the human brain, preparing them for the same competition that I would also participate in. Our team prepared for months and went on to win the first place prize at the 2019 competition. Watching my friends develop the same excitement for Neuroscience as I did made me want to continue teaching and sharing knowledge that I know.   By participating for the last three years I have seen how the VBB can truly inspire, educate, and excite students to explore neuroscience.

Nathan Jebbett. Assistant Professor of Neurological Sciences,, University of Vermont, VBB lead neuroscientist

My name is Nathan Jebbett and I’m an Assistant Professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. I’m involved with recruiting undergraduate students, making tests, coordinating the event itself, and teaching the Brain Bee Bootcamp. The Brain Bee provides an invaluable experience for local high school students. In addition to the immense amount of learning that goes into preparing, the opportunity to interact with neuroscience faculty and to study real brain specimens, high school students also interact with junior and senior undergraduates from the neuroscience honor society that host both the bootcamp and the actual event. The responsibility of teaching students that were in their same shoes four years ago is something that genuinely animates the undergraduates and gets them to think about how far they’ve progressed and what they wish they could have done differently. They really identify with the high schoolers and are some of the best informal advisors they could hope for, having recently completed or almost completed their education, they are in an ideal position to share notes. The brain bee is beneficial in a lot of ways, but the opportunity for these two students to interact and compare notes is truly unique and valuable.

Tony Morielli, Associate Professor of Pharmacology, Director of Graduate Neuroscience Program, University of Vermont. VBB neuroscience judge

Each year the Vermont Brain Bee gives Vermont high school students the opportunity to work directly with UVM undergraduate students majoring in Neuroscience, as well as Neuroscience graduate students.  These interactions start with undergraduate and graduate students teaching high school students using active teaching methods, hands-on work with neuroanatomy samples, and human brain cuttings at our neuroscience boot camps. In sum, the neuroscience boot camp and Vermont brain bee provide outstanding formats for mutually enriching interactions between the members of the UVM scientific community and the Vermont scientists of the future.  

Torey Olson, AP Bio Teacher and VBB Advisor, South Burlington High School

The South Burlington Neuroscience Club is a close knit, small cohort of dedicated and curious students with a passion for the sciences. They love to learn! They are all active group members; participating in weekly club meetings, studying hard for the annual Vermont Brain Bee, and designing outreach opportunities in our school communities. About a month ago, during brain awareness week, our team organized a day with 60 fifth graders at one of our local elementary schools. It was a rewarding day for our high school club members to teach the 5th graders about why learning how their brains work, learn, and stay healthy is important. 

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