ASU, Red Mountain High School partner to teach students about psychology, neuroscience

February 7, 2018

Screams of excitement and nervous laughter echo across a high school food court. A flock of students at Red Mountain High School in Mesa gathers around a pop-up tent and a chorus of “ewws” breaks out. The reason for this ruckus? Brains, brought to campus by scientists from Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology.

Six different brains were displayed across a table staffed by enthusiastic ASU undergraduate and graduate students who work in the lab of Heather Bimonte-Nelson, professor of psychology. The high school students were encouraged to put on protective gloves and explore what a sheep brain felt like, taking their first steps into the field of psychology and neuroscience. Isabel Strouse, ASU Department of Psychology student assists Red Mountain High School Students Isabel Strouse, a junior in ASU's Department of Psychology, assists Red Mountain High School students at the annual Red Mountain High School STEM Day. Photo by: Robert Ewing Download Full Image

This is the second year that the ASU Department of Psychology has participated in STEM Day at Red Mountain High School. Bimonte-Nelson’s students partner with the high school to bring behavioral neuroscience to high school students before they head off to college.

“It is very important to involve young minds in hands-on research in high school so they can gain experience and explore their interests early on,” said Stephanie Koebele, a graduate student with Bimonte-Nelson.

Koebele added that high school students can get a taste of what it is like to work in a real laboratory, which could jump-start their preparation for future careers in a STEM field.

“Often high school and early college students do not have a specific mentor to answer big questions,” Koebele said. “Involving high school students, especially young women and under-represented minorities, can make a huge impact on their career trajectories by providing the opportunity for one-on-one mentoring with the undergraduates, graduate students and PIs of laboratories at ASU.”

The STEM Day is not all Red Mountain High School does to expose students to STEM fields. The psychology department at ASU and Red Mountain High School have partnered to create the “RISE (Research Intensive Scientific Experience) in Psychology at ASU” initiative. Together, Bimonte-Nelson and Katy Gazda, the program director of the Biotechnology program at Red Mountain High School, have created the RISE program to work with high school students to identify their interests, match them with a professor and laboratory in the psychology department, and allow students to perform research. Students complete a senior capstone project, including a presentation of their data, while getting hands-on laboratory experience before starting college.

In the Bimonte-Nelson lab, the RISE student researchers have many tasks, but the most important ones are to score, process, and analyze behavioral data. These student researchers also learn about the scientific method, about experimental design, and how to use computer programs that support research. In addition, they assist the undergraduate and graduate student researchers with many “wet laboratory” tasks, like mixing liquids and preparing solutions used for biochemistry-involved behavioral experiments.

As part of the RISE program, Red Mountain High School senior Abby Mann conducts research in the Bimonte-Nelson lab.

“I’m really interested in the learning aspect of psychology — I come from a family of teachers — so it’s really cool to watch how things affect learning and memory,” said Abby Mann, who will attend Barrett, The Honor’s College at ASU next year.

Like Mann, fellow high school senior Maria Valenzuela Sanchez also works as a researcher in the Bimonte-Nelson lab.

“We tested whether a certain hormone affected memory in surgical menopause,” said Valenzuela, who will also attend ASU next year. “It was very exciting to see the results.”

Both Mann and Valenzuela Sanchez won gold prizes at the school science fair and will compete at the district level in the Mesa Public Schools Science and Engineering Fair.

Red Mountain High School is not the only place where the public can interact with the psychology department’s and Bimonte-Nelson lab’s outreach activities. Along with many other ASU research groups, the Bimonte-Nelson lab will participate in ASU Open Door and Brain Fair for Children.

ASU Open Door 2018

1–6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24

This year marks the fifth consecutive year that Bimonte-Nelson’s lab will participate in ASU Open Door. The lab will host the “Brain Investigation Station,” where the public can experience neuroscience on a hands-on level. It will be fun for the whole family.

RSVP for free tickets here:

Brain Fair for Children

Tuesday, Feb. 27

Since 2007, the psychology department and the Bimonte-Nelson Team have hosted the ASU Brain Fair for Children. ASU invites children who attend Title 1 elementary schools to visit campus, where they learn about the brain and what it is like to go to college. The ASU Brain Fair for Children is the first field trip for many of the students, who often come from underprivileged backgrounds.

This year, the Department of Psychology will host 75 third graders from Creighton Elementary School at the ASU Brain Fair for Children. There will be crafts and activities, including making neuron models from pipe cleaners and brain lobes from play dough. Children will have the chance to look into microscopes and make observations about what they see.

Of course, the real sheep brains that caused the high school students to excitedly scream and giggle will also be at the Brain Fair for Children. The brains are always a big hit with the kids.

“The brain fair makes a big impact on these children,” Koebele said. “It is an honor to have the opportunity to interact with them, get them excited about science, and empower them to think about being a scientist as an accessible and attainable goal.”

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


image title

ASU expands reach with education partnership for Arab youth

February 7, 2018

The university and Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education will collaborate on two initiatives for high-achieving students

Arizona State University is expanding its global reach with a new partnership with Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education to provide higher education and preparation to students in 22 countries in the Arab world.

ASU is collaborating with the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, a UAE-based foundation that provides underserved, high-achieving Arab students with scholarships, support and skills training, on two new initiatives: the Open Learning Scholars (OLS) and STEM Scholars programs.   

• Open Learning Scholars is a program for students to acquire master’s degrees from ASU Online, funded with an $11 million grant over three years.

• STEM Scholars is an opportunity for students to study for their master’s degree at ASU while also receiving mentorship and other support.

The foundation hopes the Al Ghurair OLS and STEM Scholars programs will build the next generation of leaders, according to Maysa Jalbout, the CEO of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education.

The Open Learning Scholars program’s partnership with ASU, launched this semester, will provide scholarships for 550 students in Arab countries to pursue master’s degrees through ASU Online. There is a total of 28 degree programs offered in engineering, education, health care, sustainable tourism and teaching English as a second language.

“The UAE has one of the most ambitious innovation and growth goals in the world,” Jalbout said. “The foundation is ready to invest in the education and skills of Emirati youth so that they can achieve those goals.”

The project started when ASU President Michael Crow met with the head of the foundation in Dubai several months ago.

“They realized there are a lot of common interests between the things the foundation is trying to do with college readiness and scholarships and what ASU wants to do,” said Lisa Flesher, director of strategic initiatives for EdPlus, the unit at ASU that creates technology and forges partnerships to develop new ways of teaching and learning.

Abdulla Al Ghurair, a businessman and philanthropist from Dubai, created the foundation that bears his name in 2015 to provide educational opportunities to 15,000 Arab youth over the next decade.

Jad Aboul Hosn is in the first group of foundation STEM Scholars to attend ASU, where he is enrolled in the computer engineering master’s program. He won the scholarship after graduating with a degree in computer and communication engineering from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, where his professor recommended ASU.

“ASU is a very international university,” said Hosn, who joined the Lebanese Student Association and is working with them on a community service project to help redirect unused food to homeless people in Tempe. 

Hosn was one of three foundation STEM Scholars to enroll at ASU in the fall, and he’s become good friends with the other two, who are from Tunisia and Egypt. 

He especially likes the way engineering is taught at ASU.

“I learned pure technical skills back home, which is good but all you do is solve a problem and solve a problem,” he said.

“Here, it’s a chain of thoughts. We go over the wrong approach to see what they did wrong and then we go over the correct one. They teach us to think about it.”

The foundation is especially interested in fostering those critical-thinking skills in future engineers and scientists, so it is funding study in one of 28 master’s programs at ASU, including aerospace, biomedical, chemical and construction engineering, astrophysics, nanoscience, aviation management, education and health. The move is innovative because online education has not been embraced in certain countries the university is pursuing, according to Flesher.

“This is a huge step for the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education to say, ‘We hope to shift that mindset,’” she said. “… [With ASU] there’s academic integrity and there’s validation to make sure you are who you say you are.”

The authorizing body for education in Dubai, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), has approved the 28 AGFE Open Learning Scholars online degree programs after a lengthy and detailed process, Flesher said.

ASU Online will begin acquiring authorization from the other 21 countries, a process Flesher compared with gaining accreditation in all 50 states when ASU Online launched.

The scholarship winners must be Arab citizens, younger than 30 years old, academically high achieving and show financial need.

Top photo: Computer engineering graduate student Jad Aboul Hosn poses for a portrait outside Hayden Library on Thursday Nov. 2, 2017 on the Tempe campus. Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education is working in partnership with ASU for the STEM scholars program of which Aboul Hosn is a recipient. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now