Multidisciplinary Team Wins $3M for Graduate Program

An ambitious team of researchers from across the University has won $3mn from the National Science Foundation to pursue a project in the neuroscience of learning.

The program, known as TRANSCEND: TRANSdisciplinary Convergence in Educational Neuroscience Doctoral training, aims to get graduate students from both classic and atypical backgrounds into educational neuroscience research.

“We will take an innovative approach and truly break the silos in educational neuroscience between lab research, research in the schools and the community. We also have a particularly strong focus not only on neurodiverse learners as the topic of research but also to involve them as graduate students. Neurodiverse learners are one of the most underrepresented groups in higher ed and the STEM workforce despite their tremendous talent,” says Fumiko Hoeft, interim director of the Waterbury campus, director of UConn’s Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC) and the principal investigator on the project.

The team also includes co-principal investigators Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology Ido Davidesco, Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology Nicole Landi, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Arash Esmaili Zaghi, and Professor of Clinical Psychology Inge-Marie Eigsti; and co-investigators Professor of Psychology James Magnuson, Professor of Mathematics Fabiana Cardetti, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Jinbo Bi, and Vice Provost for Graduate Education Kent Holsinger. Hoeft and Landi will co-direct TRANSCEND.

Researchers from Dr. Landi’s lab training high school student interns to place an EEG cap on a younger student’s head at the AIM Academy. (Landi Lab Photo, with permission from AIM Academy).
Researchers from Dr. Landi’s lab training high school student interns to place an EEG cap on a younger student’s head at the AIM Academy. (Landi Lab Photo, with permission from AIM Academy).

TRANSCEND will use the grant to allow second year graduate students to spend a full year researching convergent questions in educational neuroscience, with an emphasis on virtuous cycles between school and lab-based research, interdisciplinary team science, and in all areas of learning such as STEM and reading as well as developing the next generation of learning technologies using artificial intelligence (AI), with an underlying theme of neurodiversity.

Read more about this story in UConn Today, and on the TRANScend program website

Brain Healthy Project Featured in UConn Today

“Brain Healthy” initiative aims to help high school students interpret data collected through wearable devices to help make healthy choices impacting mental health

What if high school students could harness the data they collect on their smart phones and watches to assess their physical and cognitive health and, while making those assessments, discover what it’s like to be a data scientist?

That’s the idea behind Brain Healthy, an initiative developed by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers and educators headed by Neag School of Education Assistant Professor Ido Davidesco with the support of a $1.3 million Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Brain Healthy was created in response to the dual challenges of preparing traditionally underrepresented students for data and health science careers and addressing the alarming increase in reported mental health issues among children, adolescents, and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program builds on BrainWaves, a prior NIH SEPA-funded program led by Davidesco successfully implemented in 25 New York City public schools.

Davidesco and fellow Brain Healthy researchers – Wendy Suzuki, professor of Neural Science at NYU, and UConn professors Sandra Chafouleas and Eric Loken – will partner with public school teachers in Connecticut and New York City to engage ninth and tenth grade students in a “citizen science” research project evaluating their brain health and wellness. Using data from surveys and wearable devices, students will be taught how to analyze research-generated data and apply it to draw conclusions about, for example, the connection between the amount of sleep they get and their ability to focus during the day.

Read more on this story in UConn Today

Computational Thinking for High School Biology Classes

As the world of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) becomes increasingly computational, promoting students’ computational thinking is essential to prepare them for future STEM careers.

Neag School assistant professor of learning sciences, Ido Davidesco, has received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a month-long computational thinking unit in high school biology classes. Davidesco will work with Neag School colleagues Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead, Christopher Rhoads, and John Settlage, as well as Aaron Kyle from Columbia University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

The project will enhance students’ computational thinking through hands-on neural engineering experiences. Computational thinking involves strategies like using abstractions and pattern recognition to represent problems in new ways, organizing and analyzing data, breaking problems down into smaller pieces, thinking about a problem as a series of ordered steps or “algorithmic thinking,” and generalizing this process to a wider variety of problems.

“In K-12 education, computational thinking has largely been constrained to computer science and programming courses,” Davidesco, the project lead, says. “This project addresses a critical need to incorporate computational thinking into other STEM fields, in this case, biology and engineering, to introduce students to the computational nature of science nowadays.”

As part of the program students will measure their own muscle and brain activity using low-cost, wearable sensors. They will then analyze the data and design a brain-computer interface to turn neural activity into real-world output, like a mechanical claw, powered by brain activity. In addition to designing curriculum materials, the interdisciplinary project team will develop an interactive web-based app to guide students through the design process and a complimentary professional development program for teachers. Neuroscience and engineering Ph.D. students and postdocs will serve as STEM mentors for the high school students.

Read more about this story here

NSF CAREER Awardee Ido Davidesco Recognized

NSF CAREER Award logo

A prestigious group of UConn faculty are being honored this year as the University’s latest recipients of early-career awards from the National Science Foundation, recognizing their potential as role models in education and research.

The UConn Board of Trustees and Interim President Radenka Maric recognized 10 faculty members, including Neag School Assistant Professor Ido Davidesco, at Wednesday’s trustees meeting, noting that the NSF has indicated others might also receive the prestigious recognition in coming months.

The CAREER Awards come with five-year grants that are especially valuable to support early-career faculty in their research and their career development.

UConn received as many or more awards in the past three years as many leading research institutions, Maric said, including Dartmouth College, Emory University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, California Institute of Technology, Tufts University, Vanderbilt University, Yale University, and others.

“It tells you that we are a powerhouse in (having) faculty with curiosity, with passion to teach, and with passion for science, and I think that with those faculty, we can achieve new highs,” Maric said, adding that UConn also prioritizes retaining talented faculty with support that can help them flourish at the University.

She also noted that the new CAREER Award recipients are among many young faculty that UConn has recruited in recent years, including some fresh from finishing their postdoctoral programs, and who’ve made an immediate positive impact.

As Maric said at Wednesday’s meeting, “Our students come to UConn to learn from the best”.

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