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Psychology student wins prestigious travel research award

Kieran Andrew to present at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in Washington, D.C.

Kieran Andrew

Kieran Andrew, a Barrett, The Honors College student double majoring in psychology and neuroscience. Photo by Robert Ewing

November 10, 2022

For one undergraduate student, major life decisions serendipitously happen around the dinner table. 

Kieran Andrew, a student at Arizona State University’s Barrett, The Honors College double majoring in psychology and neuroscience, began his research journey as a high school junior who happened to be sitting with his future mentor, President’s Professor Heather Bimonte-Nelson, at a graduation dinner gathering with mutual family friends.

He began to talk with her about the research in her lab, Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory & Aging lab, and was offered a chance to participate as a volunteer researcher as a senior in high school. Four years later, while Andrew was once again seated at Bimonte-Nelson’s dinner table during a laboratory gathering, he completed an application for a travel scholarship right before the deadline. His mentor and peers from the lab pushed him to finish and offered support while celebrating.

He recently was announced as the recipient of one of the travel awards for the Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in Washington, D.C. The ERN Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Inclusive STEM Ecosystems for Equity & Diversity Programs and the National Science Foundation Division of Human Resource Development within the Directorate for Education and Human Resources.

At this conference, Andrew will present research that he has been working on since high school in the Bimonte-Nelson lab on sex differences in Alzheimer's disease in a transgenic animal model. 

“Being hands-on with the projects in the lab has been incredibly helpful, as well as the large breadth of experience I've been able to get from not just people in my life, but the people I've been able to meet through lab connections,” Andrew said.

The Bimonte-Nelson lab aims to characterize the cognitive and brain changes that occur during aging, as well as develop behavioral and pharmacological strategies to attenuate mnemonic and neurobiological age-related alterations. Andrew assists with conducting the memory tests in the lab, as well as performs complex data processing, scoring and analyses.

“I first met Kieran when he was a high school student, in a casual environment — even in this atmosphere, just from chatting with him informally about what our lab does, he showed an innate curiosity and asked insightful questions,” Bimonte-Nelson said. “Over the years working with him on a weekly basis, it has become clear to me that he has a deeply critical and intellectual mind — he is a born scientist. He has had valued contributions in the lab spanning performing experimental physiological procedures to cognitive testing, and he has also done an excellent job teaching other lab students, mentoring with both knowledge and patience. He especially excels at deciphering and analyzing complex data patterns.”

“I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Kieran. He has worked so hard. This is just the beginning of a wonderful journey for him,” Bimonte-Nelson said. “Whichever of his dreams he pursues — becoming a neurosurgeon or continuing his research in a doctoral program — he will excel and make the world a better place.”

Bimonte-Nelson also hosts brain fairs for the community and aims to expand access to neuroscience for all levels of learners.

“For me, it has been super helpful to have a mentor like Heather. I don’t think I would be able to receive awards without her — I'm generally the guy who's just quiet and gets the work done and then just waits until the next thing is ready to pop up. But with Heather, she’s a very proactive mentor and she definitely wants the best for her students, and that is more than I could ask for,” said Andrew.

Through a project with Bimonte-Nelson, he is also part of ASU’s NSF-funded Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation – Western Alliance to Expand Student Opportunities program, which aims to support undergraduate researchers that have been historically underrepresented in STEM. Andrew recently presented research at the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium as well, where he was an author on three posters, including one in collaboration with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

“I was able to create a regression tree from the MRI data to see how well people performed in our tasks and what brain areas were associated with performance. This project analyzed the executive function of the brain. While it was an introductory study, I presented data on possible ways we can analyze this type of research,” Andrew said.

In addition to his presentations at AAC and in Washington, D.C., for ERN, Andrew is conducting an honors thesis.

“I’m leaning toward experimentally testing learning and memory interference as we age,” Andrew said. “A related study was done in our lab before I was in it, but there are many questions left. I am interested in revisiting that topic.”

In the future, he is deciding between pursuing an MD in neurosurgery or a PhD in computational neuroscience. 

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