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University organization holds festivities for brain awareness week

<p>Rutgers BRAIN took home the winning presentation during RUPA's Pitch. As a result, Brain Fest is a collaboration&nbsp;between the two organizations, aiming to make neuroscience more accessible to the public.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

Rutgers BRAIN took home the winning presentation during RUPA's Pitch. As a result, Brain Fest is a collaboration between the two organizations, aiming to make neuroscience more accessible to the public.   

In the midst of midterms and assignment deadlines, stress and anxiety are no strangers to college students. An organization dedicated to the workings of the brain is hosting events aimed to help students learn more about how to properly take care of their brain health. 

Rutgers Building Research Advocacy and Innovation in Neuroscience (BRAIN) is an organization aiming to make neuroscience more accessible to the student population.

The club stands on the three big pillars of research, advocacy and innovation, said Michael Rallo, president of Rutgers BRAIN and a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

“We recognize that research is what drives our knowledge of science forward,” he said “For advocacy, we know that we need to be the ones that stand up for our science as well as individuals who are affected by neuroscience. And innovation is taking creativity and new ideas into neuroscience and promoting that among our general body.”

Brain Awareness Week (BAW), March 13 through 19, is a campaign founded by the Dana Foundation, a national organization focused on increasing public awareness of brain research.

In an effort to reach out to the student body, Rutgers BRAIN is celebrating brain awareness week at the University with a series of events.

The organization is hoping to bring in people who normally do not consider themselves directly affiliated with neuroscience or psychology.

“It can be a student interested in art whose fascinated with how creative an art mind has to be, or a student interested in sports who finds it amazing that brain health is also incorporated in physical training. Knowing about the brain can be shared in all kinds of disciplines,” said Neha Narayanan, treasurer of BRAIN and a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

Neuroscience is not only meant for students thinking about medical school or graduate school in the field, she said.

In the past, the organization has tabled at various campuses while busting any neuroscience myths that students had during BAW, said Ankita Veta, the outreach coordinator for BRAIN and a School of Arts and Sciences junior. This year the club has planned a three-day affair.

The group is kicking the week off with BrainFest held on Tuesday, March 21. BrainFest is a collaboration between BRAIN and Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA), said Veta.

BrainFest started as an idea meant to educate those who were not directly related to neuroscience and was presented to RUPA during their Pitch campaign, Veta said. It is really about breaking down the stereotype that neuroscience is this scary thing, because events like this show how everyone is affected by it.

Especially for students, who are constantly stressed out about exams or experiencing feelings of anxiety over an upcoming performance or assessment, there is focus on mental health because students are constantly affected by it, she said.

“BrainFest has morphed into something different than what we originally proposed because we’ve been working with RUPA and we chose the best aspects of the event to make it more accessible,” Veta said. “RUPA has the resources to reach out to students that we might not have been able to. With our combined efforts its become this really fun and interactive event.”

The event will consist of various booths, some hosted by other organizations, where people can walk around and interact with exhibits related to neuroscience and mental health, Veta said.

It also includes breakout sessions of yoga and meditation workshops to include a multifaceted approach at neuroscience and show people that it is not an elusive topic, Rallo said.

To create a cohesive event, the fest will have live music and "brain" food served to attendees, Veta said.

Wednesday, March 22, brings about Brain Blast — a day dedicated to allowing student researchers to present the work they have done related to neuroscience.

“It could be anything in neuroscience or even another field as long as they can make that connection to neuroscience,” Rallo said. “Honestly, I think the more interesting ones will be when someone can take something you wouldn’t initially look at and think ‘that’s neuroscience,’ but then make some kind of connection.”

The idea that someone could be doing research in the arts and humanities and somehow pull a connection towards neuroscience could be really interesting, he said.

On Thursday the week will finish with Brain Talks, a panel event.

The panel will consist of a variety of professionals including a scientist, a clinician and even a lawyer who will come in to talk about how different aspects of the field come together to create neuroscience, Narayanan said.

The professionals will talk about how neuroscience has affected their jobs and their roles in society, Rallo said.

This year, BRAIN is aiming to put more focus into mental health, Veta said. The club is planning on bringing in representatives from Health Outreach, Promotion and Education (HOPE) and the Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) from within the Rutgers Health Services to table at BrainFest.

“In doing so, we’re hoping that not only will students be more aware of what happens to their brains but will also know what resources are available on campus so they can act on this knowledge and take care of their brains better,” she said.

Rallo also emphasizes that the week’s events, and neuroscience in general, are meant for everyone. He wants people to appreciate their brains and learn how to take better care of them.

“Neuroscience is everybody’s field because we all have brains and it’s kind of the one thing that makes us human,” he said.

Future generations are expected to live longer and longer lives, but people will still incur damages to the brain in the form of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, he said.

“So we want to bring awareness to that and bring awareness to brain research so that we can go on to hopefully cure these ailments and allow people not only to live longer lives but to live longer and more productive lives,” he said.

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