From the Newsletter: It Takes a Village

Caroline Wilson shares her experiences launching a new neuroscience minor at Chapman University ... during the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the FUN Faculty Summer Workshop gave her the tools she needed for success.
It takes a Village: Launching a Neuroscience Minor During a Pandemic

Caroline H. Wilson, PhD, Director of Neuroscience Minor & Interdisciplinary Programs,
Chapman University, Orange CA
The paperwork was approved. The new course catalog was updated. We did it! Our new Neuroscience minor would begin in Fall 2020. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our Neuroscience council (Michael Robinson-Philosophy, Jessica Walker-Psychology, Patricia Lopes-Biological Sciences, Aaron Schurger-Institute for Interdisciplinary Brain and Behavioral Sciences, Manjari Murali-Health Sciences), we had created an integrative, rigorous curriculum for our best and brightest students. Twenty-two minors were accepted after completing prerequisites in computer science, statistics, philosophy, biological sciences, and psychology. With student majors from 5 different departments, I was looking forward to finalizing topics and activities for an introductory neuroscience lecture and lab. I dreamed of teaching neuroscience my entire life and I was finally realizing that dream.

But in March, 2020, the Covid-19 lockdown began and we all went into survival mode. I was still 
hopeful that our minor would launch in-person and that all the best laid plans would come to be. As fall approached, there was a growing realization that we would remain online. How would we begin a minor and two new courses under these circumstances? The dream was looking more like a nightmare.

Then inspiration came. I attended the virtual FUN Faculty Summer Workshop at the end of July, 2020. I found a village of neuroscientists who were creating innovative, inclusive practices for transitioning in-person courses to online. With the discussion of core concepts in Neuroscience (Audrey Chen Lew, Kimberly A. Phillps, Jennifer E. Schafer, and Patrick M. Sonner and SFN competencies), I created a checklist to ensure our minor was aligned with best practices. Mays Imad, the Keynote addressee, spoke of the power of discussing neuroscience myths with our students and unpacking some of the unconscious biases we may bring to our teaching. Ian Harrington and Alo Basu both inspired me with their talks about promoting equity in neuroscience, especially by intentionally highlighting diverse neuroscientists in our teaching. I was introduced to new open educational resources, digital texts, podcasts, video educational tools, and simulators that could assist in student learning. An initiative was also born for housing all the resources in an online neuroscience tool repository (led by Michael Wright, Claudia Jorgensen). And I was incredibly thrilled to hear about the range of laboratory exercises that could be conducted online. I incorporated lab exercises from Bill Grisham, Ashley Juavinett, and several others into my Intro Neuro lab. Judith Ogilvie, Todd Watson, and I also led a panel on
incorporating neuroscience case studies for improved student engagement. The resources seemed never-ending and the conference timing was perfect.

When the Fall 2020 semester began, I felt much more confident, but would the new courses be 
successful? Luckily, my neuroscientist village kept growing. Distinguished neuroscientists were interviewed by my colleagues so our students could hear about their career journeys. We invited virtual guests to discuss their work, such as Idea of the Brain author, Matthew Cobb, representatives from the Alzheimer's Association, my former students, and local scientists. One focus of the minor is to help develop the student's identity as a scientist, and the invited colleagues helped provide awareness in career opportunities, along with discussions of their conceptual knowledge. Instead of traditional exams, students worked on group presentations, reading discussions, Adobe Spark websites, and a video summary final. The fall courses ran brilliantly and the students were engaged. They became a team, collaborating with each other from across time zones and borders. The dream was realized. 

This is a letter of thanks to all of you, named and unnamed, who stepped up to share your knowledge during a time when many of us felt lost. Many of you continue to share through social media, the wonderful Neuroscience Teaching Conference held in July, 2021, and by publishing topics related to neuroscience pedagogy. A GIANT shout out to the FUN executive committee and last year's conference committee for all of their dedication. I am so appreciative of an organization of faculty who put students first.

This letter is also a call to action. Let's continue to grow our village! Many of us are still adapting 
and modifying our curriculum so we can continue to serve our students. Please keep sharing and disseminating your successes and struggles. After starting a minor during a pandemic, I am inspired to share whatever I can. Let's continue to stay connected and please reach out if you are starting your own program. I hope I can help be a part of your village too.

Information about the Chapman Neuroscience minor can be found here. Email or @neuronerdCA on Twitter.


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