The Ambassadorship Program

A Joint Initiative Between Bates College and Mindbridge

Linking Neuroscience To Public Engagement

Learning how the nervous system produces behavior is arguably one of the most compelling problems in science and society today.  Conflict resolution negotiators are turning to neuroscience to find solutions to intractable conflicts in regions such as Colombia and the Middle East. Seemingly distinct work is occurring simultaneously: molecular neuroscientists have begun to unlock the neural circuitry of violence and aggression; educators have begun to consider the differential ways in which our neurobiology affects the way we learn; while in the lab neuroscientists work to understand the neurobiological effects of income and its relationship to student achievement. What conflict resolution negotiators and childhood educators have both discovered is that, to understand behavior, we must understand the neural substrates of which we are composed. What neural processes underlie failures of empathy such that violence erupts between disparate ethnic groups? What processes contribute to the formation of cultural norms? What is the link between brain plasticity in vision and the alleviation of rural poverty?

Many believe the time has come for a new approach to global challenges joining scientific collaboration with public engagement. Notably this call has turned to neuroscience to find answers to previously believed intractable problems and challenges. However, while government institutions, such as the European Union, and organizations, such as the World Bank, seek the input and advice of neuroscientists, no program exists to prepare students to both conduct research and responsibly engage with organizations at this level. The Ambassadorship Program fills this gap by providing neuroscience students with the experience necessary to conscientiously engage with partner institutions in the design, implementation, analysis, and translation of scientific findings into the community.

Learning Objectives

The educational goals of the Ambassadorship Program are to train students to think critically about neuroscience in an applied context while learning to responsibly and respectfully engage in neurosciencel research with partner institutions and communities. Overarching questions include:

  • How can cognitive science and neuroscience constructively contribute to applied contexts such as social conflict, immigration, learning, agency/empowerment? What are the limits of neurobiological application?
  • How do socio-cultural, historical, and political contexts inform experiment design, analysis, and application?
  • How can innovations in neuroscience research provide novel ways of understanding behavior?
  • What are the challenges and constraints to neuroscience research in an applied context?

Applied neuroscience approaches are strongest when stemming from a multidisciplinary approach. Neuroscience students will be encouraged to engage with research scholars from across Bates College, including but not limited to Anthropology, Economics, Education, Political Science, Sociology, and beyond, to help inform and ,when applicable, co-develop research design and methodology.

Methodology

Organization Recruitment

In partnership with the Bates College Harward Center for Community Partnerships, up to 10 local, non-profit organizations (NGOs) will be recruited to participate in the program to work with and mentor student Ambassadors.  Directors of the Ambassadorship Program will work with each NGO to:

  • Identify potential areas of research for each organization
  • Identify and outline key learning objectives for students within each organization
  • Establish an organization-based mentor to partner with students

 

Student Ambassador Application

Student Ambassadors will be selected from among Bates neuroscience students. Prerequisites to apply to the Ambassador Program will be to have taken either Cultural Neuroscience and/or Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society courses. Interested students will be supplied with a list of participating organizations, their ideas for research, and identified learning objectives. Drawing from both the themes and applications considered throughout the two courses, students will apply to the program by submitting a research proposal to be undertaken with one of the program-associated NGOs. NGO mentors and Ambassadorship Directors will select students for the program based upon three criteria: (1) having taken Cultural Neuroscience and/or Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society courses, (2) demonstration in the student academic record that reflects the responsibility necessary to undertake applied neuroscience research in the field, and (3) NGO perception that the proposed research supplied by the student is a good match for their organization.

Applications will re-open Winter 2019.

2018 Ambassadors:

  • Maya Chrobot (2021) – The Effects of Culture on the Conception of Discrimination and Production of Stereotype Threat
  • Ariel Lee (2020) – Effect of Language and Environment in the Cognitive Processing of Bi-Cultural Individuals

Ambassadorship Research & Application

Students will embark upon:

  • Refining proposed research with partner NGO
  • Conduct initial pilot research so as to finalize research methodology
  • Execute full research paradigm with partner NGO
  • Analyze all data
  • Develop a report for partner NGO with associated recommendations
  • Meet with partner NGO for data translation and next steps

This process reflects a full sequence of research, beginning with initial vision, to development, execution, analysis, and application. Student Ambassadors will work closely with partner NGOs at every stage of investigation.

Publishing & Presenting

Upon completion of the Ambassadorship, students will be encouraged to both publish their results as well as present their findings at local and nationally based meetings and/or conferences.

Student Ambassador Mentorship

Students will be have between 2-3 mentors for each research project:

  • Laura Ligouri, Ambassadorship Director
  • Partner NGO Mentor
  • [Optional] Interdisciplinary Mentor – a mentor selected from another discipline at Bates College who represents an area of expertise essential for the research program

Contributions

The world’s largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), named their 2015 annual meeting “Global Science Engagement” to highlight the increasing need for the scientific community to more directly address local as well as global issues. Only a few years later, the scientific community has seen an ever-increasing need for scientific translation and application in the public sphere, with the 2017 March for Science and the AAAS’ renewed call in January 2018 for public engagement. Neuroscience is critically positioned to take up this call. Indeed, understanding the neurobiology underlying today’s global challenges is critical to an array of applications not the least of which include: conflict resolution, education, poverty reduction, the opioid crisis, sustainable development, among others.

In addition, these as well as other cognitive and neuroscientific approaches continue to be accomplished through multidisciplinary scholarship not achievable in independent academic departments alone. In 2015, the World Bank released its World Development Report entitled “Mind, Society, and Behavior” highlighting the importance of cognitive and neuroscience research in social and political approaches to understanding behavior. This is a fundable area of research focused on humanistic intervention with an obvious need to bring together disciplines. This is a feat uniquely achievable at Bates College where an interdisciplinary approach has been emphasized within the neuroscience program.  The Ambassadorship Program will be the first neuroscience program in the United States to actively train undergraduate students for responsible and translatable applied, interdisciplinary neuroscience research with community partner institutions.

Training: To date, few academic programs exist in neuroscience that provide students with the training necessary to engage critically with public sectors or to explore ways in which science may have practical application. Further, each NGO-based program or field of interest takes place within a unique socio-cultural/political context that must be understood and responsibly integrated into any experimental paradigm to provide useful, real-world solutions. This necessitates a form of interdisciplinary training to bridge the gap between science and humanitarian efforts.

Translational Research: All too often insights, discoveries, and breakthroughs made in academic environments do not reach applied contexts. Research addressing the ways in which inter-ethnic dynamics, poverty, and exposure to adversity and chronic “toxic stress” interact with neurodevelopment, public policy, and programming fail to reach leaders dedicated to advancing human rights and conflict resolution. The Ambassadorship Program seeks to begin the process by which scientific research is translated, and in partnership with NGOs, integrated into programming and application.

Mindbridge

This program has been developed in partnership with Mindbridge, a Portland-based nonprofit organization connecting psychological and neurobiological insight to non-profit and government-sponsored humanitarian efforts. Visit Mindbridge at: www.mindbridgecenter.org

Contact

For more information contact: Laura Ligouri lligouri@bates.edu