Neuroscience workshops fuel Cambridge students’ college dreams

A student weighs a brain in his hands

3 min read

In Harvard’s Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab, high school students from Cambridge Housing Authority’s (CHA) The Work Force Program, enthusiastically volunteered to learn about brain research by testing an MRI scanner. Others wore blue gloves as they cautiously interacted with authentic human and animal brains while learning about their neuroanatomy. In a room with iPads connected to a television, students broke into small groups and played a very fun and competitive game of, “debunking common brain myths” led by two researchers.

These compelling workshops are part of Harvard’s commitment to the local community. To ignite and support educational aspirations, Harvard opens its doors to local public school students. During their February school vacation, students visited Harvard to experience a day in the life of a college student and to learn tips to get on the path to success, after high school.

Constanza Vidal, the project manager for The Human Connectome Project — an NIH-funded multi-site study, that seeks to investigate how different parts of the brain are connected to each other — said of the CHA students, “everyone in our team was very excited to share some basic brain science research with the students who attended, especially since they happen to be in the age of the lifespan that we’re most interested in!” She continued, “The students had very insightful questions about our research as well, and reminded us of the importance of making scientific research accessible to the community. We sincerely hope we managed to provide even a small contribution to their excitement about science and the idea of attending college!”


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CHA’s Work Force Program, is a youth program that vows to, “foster the personal and professional growth of teens in public housing by helping them to gain the competencies they need at home, at school and at work.” Ayesha Wilson, a former CHA Work Force participant, now a teacher and counselor at CHA, said of the Harvard neuroscience lab workshops, “For these teenagers, this means opportunity. These workshops are a chance for them to learn something new, for them to be proud to be a part of a Cambridge community that truly cares.”

This year made it the third year that high school students who participate in the Work Force Program visited Harvard. Tafari Jeantillorme, a tenth grader and Crimson Summer Academy scholar was moved by the visit. Tafari shared, “the workshops made me realize that brains are very special. I want to take better care of mine by learning and doing more.” When asked if he was thinking about college, Jeantillorme quickly replied, “I’m going to college! I want to study math, more specifically, quantitative reasoning.”