When Isaiah Taylor gets talking about brain function, you can spot a little flicker of excitement in his eyes.
In hopes of igniting that spark for neuroscience, the Grade 8 Harriet Tubman Public School student was recently invited to spend a day in a Brock University lab.
The visit was part of a new initiative between the University and the District School Board of Niagara that aims to fuel the passion of young learners in the region.
Over the past few months, a handful of Grade 8 students from various DSBN schools have been connected with Brock faculty members and grad students to gain hands-on experience in areas such as neuroscience, creative writing and business.
Taylor spent a day in Brock’s Centre for Lifespan Development Research, where he participated in an electroencephalogram test and was able to watch his own brain waves come to life on screen.
“It was cool to be able to see my brain activity,” said the 14-year-old St. Catharines resident, who was impressed by his time with Lifespan Director Sid Segalowitz, Psychology student Shelby Howlett and postdoctoral fellow Meghan Weissflog.
While he’s been to Brock on several occasions, this was his first hands-on experience in one of the neuroscience labs.
DSBN Experiential Learning Consultant Stephanie Minor, who has been co-ordinating the campus visits alongside Brock Recruitment Officer Courtney Keogh, called it “huge” for the Grade 8 students to be able to connect with the University at an early age.
“Showing students what the possibilities are for their future paths has been absolutely incredible,” she said.
The partnership is geared toward students who haven’t found a strong connection to subjects offered in their elementary school curriculum. Instead, they are asked if they could learn about anything at all, where their focus would lie.
“When you ask them, it’s almost like watching a lightbulb turn on,” Minor said.
“We want to engage them in a topic they’re passionate about, potentially putting them on a whole new path. That’s what this whole process is all about.”
Guidance teachers at the respective schools help to identify young learners who would be a good fit for the initiative.
“We want to take that spark and help it grow, showing students there’s more out there than traditional classroom topics they’re learning at the moment,” Minor said.
For Taylor, his interest in brain function stems from his love of sports and has created curiosity about how reflexes work.
Being able to ask questions related to his interests with professionals and students in the field proved to be a valuable experience, Minor said.
“I’m profoundly grateful for the work Brock has done to bring these opportunities together,” she said. “Isaiah will never forget this. He’ll be talking about this forever with his friends, which is so impactful.”
Prior to their more in-depth visits, the Grade 8 students came to campus to have lunch with a current Brock student in the program area of their choice.
“This initial meeting helped us learn more about why they were interested in a specific program and the types of experience they wanted to have in their visits to Brock,” Keogh said. “We were incredibly fortunate to have the support of many instructors, professors and campus partners, which allowed us to plan multiple visits.
“It was great to see each student so excited,” she said. “We hope their time on campus was great motivation for them to continue to pursue their passions.”
Keogh and Minor are both hopeful to see the initiative continue into the future.
“We’re happy it has been such a positive experience for everyone involved,” Keogh said.