Neuroscience Conference 'Changes Lives'

by Steve Charles

September 30, 2013

More than 90 students and faculty from colleges and universities across the Midwest gathered at Wabash Saturday for what Dean of the College Gary Phillips called “the kind of work that changes lives.”

Welcoming participants to the Fifth Annual Midwest/Great Lakes Undergraduate Research Symposium in Neuroscience Saturday morning, Phillips cited research by the College’s Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts that shows that these sorts of faculty/student collaborations are “high impact teaching practices.”

“When students attend a conference like this with a faculty member and share their collaborative research with others, things change in the brains of both students and faculty,” Phillips said. “You learn to think critically, develop a greater consciousness of the world around you, and your experience of diverse persons and ideas expands.”

Phillips congratulated the faculty, including conference organizers from the Wabash psychology department, for their commitment to teaching and to a deeper understand of how the brain works.

“I know it’s a labor of love,” Phillips said. “You take time out of your own lives and work to do this, and I know these students appreciate your doing so to make a difference in theirs.”

The daylong conference included presentations by Benjamin Brown and Sean Anderson of Baldwin Wallace University, Bradley Wise ’14 of Wabash College, and Wayward Walters of Allegheny College. Nineteen research posters were presented in Knowling Fieldhouse by students from those schools and the University of Evansville, Wittenberg University, Ohio Wesleyan University, Oberlin College, DePauw University, Indiana University, Earlham College, and Kalamazoo College.

Dr. Pedro Irazoqui, Director of the Center for Implantable Devices at Purdue University, presented the keynote address, and Wabash staff and alumni shared their experience in their fields during panel discussions. Neurophysiology technologist Jim Leuck ’09 joined Wabash Pre-Health Advisor Jill Rogers and pharmacist Kathleen Novak for a panel on alternative careers in science, and third-year medical school students Samer Kawak ’11 and Chad Sorenson ’10 joined representatives from IU and the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Graduate Program to answer students’ questions about medical and graduate school. Denison University Professor Nestor Matthews also led a faculty conversation on community engagement.

Wabash students also assisted behind the scenes.

“Some of them helped with the logistics, and we modeled the symposium on a professional conference, so they get a feel for what hosting one of those is like,” co-organizer Professor Karen Gunther said. She sees other benefits for the students, whether they are presenting, supporting their fellow students, or simply attending the conference.

“They can chat with other students who are doing neuroscience research at other schools, they get more experience presenting their work, which is always good, and from the career panels they can see what options are out there, learn more about applying to grad school, and perhaps make contacts.

“And the conference itself is service to the professional community of neuroscientists, in particular neuroscience faculty who are engaged in and invested in undergraduate research.

The symposium was sponsored by the University of Cincinnati and Wabash, and Wabash plans to host the event again next September. Dean Phillips says hosting the conference shows how quickly the neuroscience program is growing at Wabash.

“It’s a statement about Wabash’s place in the neuroscience community,” Phillips said. “We have foothold in this, and it’s on a quicker path than we expected.”


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