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ASU neuroscientist earns 'difference maker' award for work with students

May 11, 2010

Heather Bimonte-Nelson’s sneakers sparkle as does her jewel-encrusted lab coat with “Dr. Heather” scripted in glitter. To a casual observer, it is difficult to tell who is more excited, this energetic researcher who directs the behavioral neuroscience program in ASU’s Department of Psychology, or the nearly 200 fifth-graders sitting on the ballroom floor in Old Main.

The room quiets as Bimonte-Nelson, an associate professor at ASU, welcomes the young visitors to a brain fair for children at ASU and introduces herself: “I am a brain scientist, so I study how a brain works.”

Bimonte-Nelson is also the 2010 recipient of the Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award presented by ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The annual award was established through generous contributions of faculty, staff and friends of ASU, to recognize and celebrate a faculty member who personifies the spirit of difference-making demonstrated by Krahenbuhl, a former dean of the college.

The brain fair for children, a two-day event this past March, is the brainchild of Bimonte-Nelson. It provided more than 700 Valley kindergarteners through fifth graders with the opportunity to peer at bee pollen through miniature microscopes, hold sheep brains in their gloved hands, and make small-scaled Play-Doh brains – all with assistance from more than 150 ASU undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty members from the psychology department, School of Life Sciences, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and College of Teacher Education and Leadership.

Bimonte-Nelson’s infectious enthusiasm also brought a researcher from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to the ASU campus and sponsorships from several local and regional organizations.

“Heather’s ability to mobilize groups of faculty to produce change, and her interaction with external constituents, especially elementary students and teachers, is an excellent demonstration of moving ideas into action,” says Quentin Wheeler, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Nominated in part for her community outreach, which began four years ago during Brain Awareness Week, Bimonte-Nelson, whose research characterizes relations between the brain and cognition, has visited dozens of local classrooms with her “knowledge is power” message.

“Heather is a unique person who does this because she loves this. She brings her excitement for science to other people,” says Keith Crnic, chair of ASU’s Psychology Department.

“She is an exceptional citizen of the university who personifies a spirit of difference-making,” notes Sid Bacon, dean of natural sciences at ASU.

Bimonte-Nelson is the eighth recipient of the award.

Last year, the honor went to Stephen Batalden, a professor of history and the founding director of ASU’s Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies.

Batalden, who is a prominent scholar in Russian and Balkan history, is also a dedicated teacher of undergraduate and graduate students alike, according to Mark von Hagen, director of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

“Steve is a wonderful and dedicated colleague who works tirelessly and creatively to advance his own area of responsibility as well as the college and university mission. He has made a difference at ASU and richly deserved this honor,” says Linda Lederman, dean of social sciences.

The Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award has been awarded since 2003 to a tenured faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences “who demonstrates a broad vision for academic scholarship and a passion for engaging students in discovery and exploration,” says Deborah Losse, dean of humanities.

“Dr. Bimonte-Nelson’s work on campus and in the community, and the work of past recipients, exemplifies a strong commitment to students and teaching – a commitment that has made a difference,” Losse says.

Other recipients are:

• Neal Woodbury, a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, and deputy director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute (2008).

• Nancy Jurik, a professor of justice and social inquiry in the School of Social Transformation (2007).

• Jane Maienschein, a Regents’ Professor and President's Professor, and director of the Center for Biology and Society in the School of Life Sciences (2006).

• James Collins, a professor in the School of Life Sciences (2005).

• Noel Stowe, a professor of history and founder of ASU’s Public History Program, deceased (2004).

• Richard Fabes, director of the School of Social and Family Dynamics (2003).