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Neurosciences Student Mentoring

And Research Training Program

Since 2012, the EBL has run a successful semester-long high school STEM class. This class allows qualifying high school students the opportunity to participate in neuroscience research while earning college credit through Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). The goal of the program is to increase the number of health science students from underrepresented STEM groups by improving college and career readiness of Iowan youth. Participating students are recruited through the Central Campus Health Sciences program at Des Moines Public Schools’ Central Academy, and include high school students from across the greater Des Moines area, including East, Hoover, Lincoln, North and Roosevelt High School. To date, we have had 76 students (including juniors and seniors) successfully complete the course and several have gone onto competitive undergraduate science programs, research internships and have presented their research at state and district science fairs.  We continue to work closely with our industry sponsor Kemin and are grateful for the generous support we’ve received from grants through the Verizon Foundation, Kemin Industries (Human Nutritional and Health Division), Des Moines University and the Iowa Governors STEM Advisory  Council. Together we can make Iowa a beacon for STEM education and help address the workforce needs of our region.
Research Orientation Module in Comparative Neuroanatomy
(Bio 922 Field Studies  (DMACC), SC 1531&2 Bio Workplace Exp S1&S2 (High School)
This is an introductory course designed to familiarize high school students with comparative

neuroanatomy and some of the research methods employed in mapping the human brain.  

As a natural science course, it is designed to expose students to the Scientific Method and allow them to explore using basic observational skills and relevant theoretical knowledge, the underlying neuroanatomy controlling behavior in mammalian species.


Students will have the opportunity to study science outside of the traditional classroom setting and to apply this knowledge by collaborating on a research project pertaining to mammalian brain evolution. Because this course assumes no prior knowledge of neuroscience, the first few class meetings will focus on fundamentals of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. With this background we will survey functional systems in the brain, highlighting phylogenetic variation in projection pathways, neocortical diversification, and evidence of brain evolution from fossil endocasts.The course is run during the Fall and Spring Semester and is open to all high school students meeting the requirements set out through our existing collaboration with the Des Moines Public School System (Contact Ms. Kacia Cain: Through participation in this course, students earn college credit through Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).


Prerequisites include: successful completion of college Anatomy and Physiology or college Biotechnology at Central Campus and concurrent enrollment in the second course, either college Anatomy and Physiology or college Biotechnology at Central Campus.

What types of activities will we do in class?

Through this series of practical sessions, short lectures and seminars we hope to provide you with the suitable tools and exposure to neuroscience methods that will empower you to continue your enquiry beyond the classroom. 


Many of the skills you’ll be exposed to during this research orientation are not exclusive to neuroscience and thus can be transposed to future careers in other disciplines requiring quantitative and critical thinking.We will build our understanding progressively by working toward a series of goals.  By the end of the course, you should be able to think like a natural scientist to:

  • Use your observational skills and basic quantitative procedures to contrast and compare features in the cerebro cortex of different mammalian species

  • To identify basic mammalian neuroanatomy and its functional correlates.

  • Have a basic understanding of evolutionary theory as it pertains to the study of comparative neuroanatomy

  • Articulate the results of relevant scientific literature and the significance of any data collected during the research rotation.

  • Evaluate the limitations in the data collected and how well or poorly this fits with existing models and the pitfalls and strengths of each of these models. 



2018 Juniors

What do we stand to learn from studying the brains of other animals?


Comparative neuroscience offers not only an opportunity to investigate less frequently studied species but also provides insight into the basic mechanisms governing the function of all nervous systems. The recent Brain Initiative set up by President Obama highlights the national importance of the neurosciences in helping us to develop effective treatments for various mental health disorders. Undoubtebly, the comparative approach will play a key role in discoveries made by future scientists! At the Evolving Brain Laboratory we want to play an active role in encouraging and developing the next generation of neuroscientists! 


Some historical and recent examples of the benefit of comparative neurobiological studies include:


The squid giant axon and ionic basis of the action potential (Hodgkin & Huxley, 1952); the discovery of dendritic spines in the central nervous system of the chicken (Cajal, 1888); the discovery of the reflex arc in frogs (Hall, 1833); the discovery of conditioned reflexes in dogs (Pavlov, 1927 and operant conditioning in pigeons (Skinner, 1938), the parcellation of the cerebral cortex into motor (Fritsch & Hitzig, 1870) and visual (Munk, 1878) areas in the dog; understanding the cellular basis of learning and memory in Aplysia (Kandel, 2004); the discovery of neuronal replacement in canaries (Nottebohm, 2002); Understanding cortical columnar organization, development and plasticity in cats and monkeys (Hubel & Wiesel, 1998; Mountcastle, 1997); the discovery of radial neuronal migration in macaque monkey (Rakic, 1990); the discovery of reward signaling by midbrain dopaminergic neurons in monkeys (Schultz et al., 1993, 1997). Click the link to read more about NeuroSMART research opportunities for high school students. See more pictures from Flickr

Pic  Kemin Visit - 10th April 2019.jpg


Alumni List 2012-Present: Katherine Bickel, Megan Brown, Shaeloren Deering, Han Doan, Esteban Heredia, Pryce Johnson, Jerry Jones, Samuel Knoshaug, Sandy Le, Tiffany LeMaster, Shamari Little, Morgan Meyer,  Tina Tran, Tuan Truong, Andrew Van Nice, Hailey Zugg, Amirah, Burns-Khan, Maja Cajic, Kelsie, Cooper, Anna Dotts, Chloe Ibsen, Sreelekha Kundu, Calla Lloyd, Jenna Neel, Brittany Nguyen, Mason Rhodes, Veronica Smith, Jill Tang, Joy Dannelly, Meredith Hodges, Maria Lai, Maureen Lyons, Zaynaba Musa, Brianne Proctor, Francis Schulte, Elizabeth Strueva, Milena Torres, Cinthia Wilkinson, Diana Yang, Sydney Bentley, Elizabeth Bering, Kyle Brooks, Kathleen Chartier, Nicola Etter, Madysen Gilbert, William Golden, Alex Hilmes, Ann, Majure, Xin Yang Wang, Anna Brown, Ankita Chatterjee, Anger Dok, Jack Fritjanker, Faiza Ibrahim, Kennaday Lilly, Caitlyn McGrew, Francis Schulte, Cinthia Wilkinson, Henry Winber, Naveen Nath, Han Ngyuen, Annamarie Yuka, Phuoc Phu, Seth Kallestad, Ethan Jam, Aracelyn Campo, Katelyn Wilson, Amber Ray, Aditi Jith, Michaela Verwers, Jocelyn Luangdetmalay, Alejandro Zarate, Helena Anderson, Ian Hollingworth, Esther Ubadigbo, Justin Kwot, Thi Banh, Kobe Pranivong, Khristian Martinez, Samira Gado, Lauren Zenti, Henderson Huynh, Edward Kouangvongthien, Amy Carranza, Jaida Henderson, Joseph Grommet, Kathy Le, Linda Elradi, Lu  Meh, Truong Truong, Thalani Henry
*Select student posters
Community Heath Immersion Project (CHiP) (INST*2071)

This course has been offered since 2014 and is offered as a 6-8 week Spring elective course specifically structured for Des Moines University students interested in learning about cultural competencies and the barriers faced by medically-underserved communities (African American and Latino) in the Des Moines Area. Using the barbershop as an example of Ray Oldenburg's concept of the third place, we have partnered with five urban barbershops (Clippernomics, Platinum Kutz, Imperial Kutz, Supreme Cuts, and Letty's Beauty Salon) to provide weekly blood pressure screenings to the community and to start one on one discussions about health and accessibility with members of the community. This class also partners with an ongoing public health study lead by Dr. Simon Geletta (Co-PI: Muhammad Spocter) investigating hypertension and intervention strategies in these communities.


The goals of the program are:


  1. Enhance and build a dialogue with medically-underserved communities in the Greater Des Moines Area.

  2. Train health care professionals with the skills necessary to become culturally competent and cognizant of the barriers to good health.

  3. Actively engage DMU students with participating communities.

  4. Work alongside our community partners to improve health care access and mitigate the effects of health disparities.

  5. Provide opportunities for students to participate as part of an interprofessional team working to develop a community profile

  6. Increase the number of graduates from Des Moines University who choose to enter practice in underserved rural/urban communities in Iowa.

Rationale: There is increasing evidence that racial and ethnic minorities are the fastest growing demographic in the US, with projected totals for Iowa indicating a 7% and 3% increase in Latino and African American households by 2018, and national trends indicating that the non-white Hispanic population is likely to comprise 50% of the total US population by 2050. However, despite this recognition of a changing patient demographic, these communities remain chronically underserved by the health care system. Several factors are known to contribute to the growing list of health disparities but amongst these, the lack of culturally and linguistically competent health professionals has been identified as a key area of concern. In addition, community perceptions about the treatment facility also remain a major obstacle to health care interventions. In light of this, with Des Moines University centrally placed to help emerging racial/ethnic minorities, this project aims to get our students adequately trained for the health care challenges of tomorrow and help develop inroads into these communities. Through the use of a 6-8 week immersion program consisting of basic ethnographic techniques and participant observation, we aim to get DMU students actively engaged in learning about the cultural milieu that defines our community and help them develop the tools necessary to transpose these skills of engagement and cultural cognizance to other communities of need.
In the Spring we follow an A-day schedule with the class meeting on the Des Moines University (DMU) campus. In the Fall, class meets for the 'Brain Histology STEM Lab' on Wednesday afternoons between 1:00 pm -3:00pm.
Video Testimonials (Neuro-SMART)




Kacia Cain receives Iowa STEM Teacher of the Year Award
Iowa Governor (Kim Reynolds) STEM Summit 2018. Neuro-SMART Showcase
2019 Class Juniors
2019 Juniors
Video Testimonials (CHiP Playlist)

© 2011 by Evolving Brain Laboratory (EBL)

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