Three sites a week. Eighteen schools a quarter. One hundred active members a year. This is the amount of dedication Interaxon at UCLA commits to students in Greater Los Angeles. From kindergarten to high school students, the group shows students how to use their brains to make an impact. For this reason, the UCLA Volunteer Center Fellows are proud to award Interaxon at UCLA with the Fall 2015 Mongelli Award for Excellence and Civic Engagement.
Interaxon is an undergraduate initiative to make neuroscience a part of curricula across Los Angeles. Focusing primarily on continuation high schools and inner-city K-12 schools, Interaxon goes to sites two to three times a week to get students excited about the brain, science, and college. From Brentwood to Compton, Interaxon gives students who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn about neuroscience an opportunity to explore the wonders of the brain and gain information about higher education.
During their Monday meetings, board members announce the sites for the upcoming weeks, which general members can register for. Once signed up, six to eight active members attend a training led by an Interaxon project director, who shows them how to teach topics that range from music to drug-brain interactions. Each presentation consists of two 15-20 minute presentations and a 20-minute Q&A about college. Although some schools only get quarterly or yearly visits, Julia Chornak, President of Interaxon at UCLA, states that the group’s goal is to “excite the young students about neuroscience and give them an opportunity to see higher education in science as a place in their future.”
At a few schools, including Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, high school students take part in a year-long curriculum designed by club members based on UCLA’s Neuroscience 101 course. This program culminates in a science fair at UCLA, which provides the incredible opportunity for high school students to connect with members who have a passion for learning. Because they are within the same age group, the culmination is designed to provide high school students a relatable experience and show them that they too can become college neuroscience students.
Interaxon also focuses on Los Angeles continuation high schools, which are schools for at-risk students or those who receive their diploma as adults. Chornak adds that Interaxon gives students at these schools the hope that higher education, especially in science, is an option for them too. “Interaxon makes college a more attainable goal for our students,” explains Chornak.
In addition, Interaxon works with the Brain Research Institute (BRI) and other campuses on the Los Angeles Brain Bee, an international competition on neuroscience, much like a traditional spelling bee. Interaxon helps write the exams, plan the event, and maintain the website. For Winter quarter, the group plans to host a Brain Awareness Week and a multi-school elementary school science fair, in collaboration with other on-campus organizations like Project WILD.
The impact of Interaxon’s service learning goes both ways. Julia, a member of Interaxon, says that her students at Mar Vista “ask the most intriguing questions to the group. It makes even our members think about our role in human biology.”
To join Interaxon, visit their website or Facebook page for their updated meeting times for Winter Quarter. Interested volunteers may also show up at their weekly meetings, which are held on Mondays at 5 pm in the Ackerman Viewpoint Conference Room. Trainings are held weekly, so it is never too late to join – you are welcome on any Monday, be it Week 1 or Week 8!