Why Take Outreach Abroad? One Chapter’s Reason
At the University of New England (UNE), we have invested in our community through both local outreach efforts in Maine and also through advancing the impact of global scientific and cultural exchange.
From our campus in Tangier, Morocco, to our exchange programs with the Universities of Granada and Sevilla in Spain, here are a few ways our campus and partners have benefited from collaborating across cultures.
Engaging the Community In and Out of the Lab
We intentionally built science laboratories into our UNE campus in Tangier, Morocco, so that undergraduate pre-med and pre-health majors with lab-heavy curriculums can still study abroad during the academic semesters.
This has given our students the opportunity to study while being immersed in a mix of Spanish, French, African, and Arab communities.
We’ve opened up our labs to school kids attending Colegio Ramon y Cajal, a Spanish international school conveniently located down the street from our Tangier campus, throughout the year.
Hands-on science activities such as dissection, microscope, and physiology exercises provide valuable opportunities to start discussions between the children and UNE students. Many of them are interested in our culture as well as career and professional pathways. Likewise, our students gain experience with a new culture and languages.
We also invite the larger Tangier community onto our campus for talks, forums, concerts, and other cultural events so that they, too, have the opportunity to learn about science and connect with UNE students.
Particularly of note is the work students do with the Cendis Education Center for Children with Autism and Down Syndrome. They bring structured activities for each age group to engage kids who live with significant disabilities.
These interactions break down barriers typically associated with brain diseases and disorders and connect us as human beings. The empathy and communication skills our students learn are invaluable in their career pursuits in medicine, nursing, and other healthcare professions. Our students say that volunteering at the center is a life-changing experience.
Pecha Kucha (PK) Talks
These presentations — 20 slides where each slide automatically advances after 20 seconds — challenge students and faculty to communicate about brain and nervous system disorders to the public in a succinct, passionate way. We’ve opened up these talks to the community in southern Maine and abroad.
Many of the student presenters have been touched directly or indirectly by injuries and diseases that impact the brain and nervous system. They share their personal experiences to destigmatize conditions such as chronic pain, substance misuse and addiction, depression, and anxiety. Their stories help to engender understanding and empathy among community members, and raise awareness for the resources that are available to help navigate these difficult situations.
We’ve successfully advertised these talks through the PK program’s network of registered international chapters and social media.
Sparking Student Curiosity
The biggest key to our success abroad is proactive student leadership. Faculty provide support when necessary, but students come up with ideas and don’t need a lot to get started before their projects take off.
For instance, two students were inspired to see how different cultural perceptions of pain affected treatment methods:
- In Tangier, Morocco, one student reached out to healthcare systems to learn about the stigmas of chronic pain and even sat in on procedures to compare Morocco’s pain management methods with those of the United States. She also engaged the Moroccan neuroscience community when attending their annual meeting. Now, she is going back to Tangier for a third time to spend a year as a student life coordinator.
- In Sevilla, Spain, another student interviewed healthcare providers and patients with chronic conditions about their experiences. She is building video narratives that we’ll showcase on our chapter’s site.
By strengthening these connections, we hope to expand opportunities for students to conduct research and broaden our outreach program.
Our next step is to fully build out our outreach curriculums, rigorously evaluate them, and disseminate them to other SfN chapters and universities.
We’re just at the infancy of this global initiative and see great opportunities for chapters and trainees to continue to work together to make an impact around the world.
Adapted from the presentation, Expanding Chapter Horizons: Connecting Local and International Communities.
*Photo provided by author.