Sentience Foundation Makes Two Campaign Gifts to Muhlenberg
to Support Undergraduate Research and Brain Camp
July 29, 2009
The Sentience Foundation has made two generous gifts to Muhlenberg to support undergraduate research in neuroscience and the College’s annual Brain Camp, a one-week summer experience for high school students, which ran July 13 to 17 this year. The Sentience Foundation’s connection to Muhlenberg was made through alumnus Jason Weiss ’98, son-in-law of Milton Straus, executive director of the Foundation.
Sentience trustees visited Muhlenberg on Friday, July 17, to meet with the College’s faculty and student researchers and to attend the public poster session and luncheon that conclude Brain Camp. Thanks to the generous gift from the Sentience Foundation, participation in Brain Camp was free pending acceptance. All expenses, including housing, meals and social activities, were included.
“It’s very important to get high school students interested in the sciences,” says Deborah Lambro, trustee and head of the speaker series at Sentience. “One of the things that I learned from our visit is that the students were all so appreciative of the experience of Brain Camp. Some of them may even change their career course after what they learned this week.”
That’s good news to Muhlenberg faculty who participate in Brain Camp each year. “Over the past 15 years the number of high students choosing to study science at the college level, and the retention of students in the sciences through graduation, has declined,” says Dr. Mary Constant Byrne, lecturer in biology and director of Brain Camp. “Some feel that this is a national crisis since we are importing our scientists from other countries. A science camp like Brain Camp gives the high school student a glimpse of what it is like to be a scientist and to study science at the undergraduate level getting them excited about science as a career.”
“The foundation gift allowed us to admit students who may not financially be able to attend a summer camp,” continues Dr. Byrne. “Most summer camp experiences require tuition – the only other neuroscience camp in the country charges tuition.”
“Many studies suggest that women and historically-underrepresented minorities lack mentorship and support to sustain their interests in science, especially in high school and college,” adds Dr. Jeremy Alden Teissére, associate professor of biology and neuroscience, and director of the neuroscience program at Muhlenberg. “Brain Camp helps to prevent the attrition of these students by providing a free and engaging experience in neuroscience.”
“The U.S. has experienced a rapid growth in neuroscience in the last ten years – but we have yet to see this expertise change high school science curriculum. Thus, although students may be very interested in neuroscience, and are able to learn more about neuroscience from the media, they have very little opportunity to study neuroscience at the high-school level,” says Dr. Teissére.
During Brain Camp, participants live in supervised student housing on Muhlenberg’s campus and attend interactive classes on brain anatomy, neural function and biological basis of behavior. In the afternoons, participants join the laboratories of Muhlenberg College faculty and pioneer independent research in neuroscience.
“We introduce them to the inner-workings of the brain, including brain anatomy, pharmacology, sensory and motor behavior and cognition,” says Dr. Teissére. “We think of Brain Campers as the neuroscientists of tomorrow. We want to use the Camp to deepen and sustain students’ interests in science, get them excited about studying neuroscience in college and provide them with an opportunity to do research in a ‘real’ science environment, surrounded by undergraduate and faculty mentors.”
In addition to Brain Camp, the Sentience Foundation is funding three student-faculty collaborative summer research projects in neuroscience. “This is a significant gift specifically targeted to research in neuroscience at Muhlenberg,” says Dr. Teissére. This gift will allow three students each summer to pioneer cutting-edge research in neuroscience in collaboration with faculty in the neuroscience program: Dr. Teissére, Dr. Jordanna Sprayberry, assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Gretchen H. Gotthard, assistant professor of psychology. Students who are funded by the Sentience Foundation will receive a competitive stipend, campus housing and a small equipment budget for research. “This year, Eric Gonzalez ’09, Trisha Kadakia ’09 and Meghan Wilson ’09, all rising senior neuroscience majors, are the recipients of Sentience Foundation research awards,” says Dr. Teissére.
During their visit, Sentience trustees had a chance to meet with Muhlenberg student researchers and their mentors to hear about their research. Trustees Glenn O’Neill and Jean Straus remarked on the strength of the College’s neuroscience program, faculty and students. “The amount of enthusiasm that exuded from Muhlenberg students was great to see,” says Mr. O’Neill. “They each talked about how close and how valuable their relationships with faculty are.” “The total immersion is so impressive,” adds Ms. Straus.
“We are privileged to support the research of Dr. Teissére; he is one in a million,” says Sentience Trustee George Phillips. “Our visit to Muhlenberg has solidified our commitment to the College. It was nothing short of amazing!”
For more information on making a gift to The Talents Entrusted to Our Care: The Campaign for Muhlenberg College, click on “make a gift” above, call 484-664-3247 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.