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This is the second in a series of Brain Awareness Week partner interviews, in which partners share their experiences and tips for planning successful events. Myisha Fuller is the teen librarian at Ashburn Library in Virginia, and Hasna Rizwan is a local high school student. Together they planned the library’s first Brain Awareness Week event.
Dana Foundation: Last year was Loudoun County’s first ever Brain Awareness Day. What inspired you to get involved in the campaign?
Hasna Rizwan: Since I was 7 years old, I’ve enjoyed reading about neuroscience and the human brain, and this inspired me to want to become a neuroscientist. As I grew older, I became interested in learning more about the conditions and disorders that occur within the nervous system.
When I began volunteering at the Ashburn Library, I realized how much people didn’t know about the brain and the field of neuroscience. When I explained that I wanted to become a neuroscientist, they would ask, “Isn’t that like Alzheimer’s?” or “Isn’t that like autism?” I want people to understand not only about brain disorders or conditions, but also about how the brain helps us in everyday life. I researched online how I could help the community become more familiar with the field of neuroscience, and I discovered Dana’s Brain Awareness Week campaign. I immediately took the idea to the teen librarian at the Ashburn Library, Myisha Fuller. She helped me build an outline for the event. Nearly midway through the planning process, my grandfather suffered a stroke during neurosurgery to treat his Trigeminal Neuralgia. I never thought I could have that type of personal experience with a condition that I was studying. This pushed me even more to want to make the community aware that the brain is important to us and we should never take it for granted. I saw how one minute you can be talking and walking, and the next, you can be learning those skills all over again.
Myisha Fuller: Actually, Hasna inspired me to get involved with the campaign. As a teen librarian, I strive to meet the wants and needs of the teens that the library serves, so when Hasna came to me and said that she wanted to host a Brain Awareness program at the library, I set out to meet her request. I find it inspirational when teens are so involved with their library that they want to find a way to give back to the community. With Hasna’s determination, it was an easy task to make a Brain Awareness program a part of what the library offers to the community.
How did you publicize the event? Did certain tactics work better than others?
MF: At Loudoun County Public Library, we have a wide array of means to publicize our events. We have Pages, which is our printed calendar of events that comes out every two months that circulates our eight branches countywide. We also have an online calendar that is available to anyone with Internet access. Additionally, we highlighted the event on the homepage of our website. We had fliers made to promote the event, which again, circulated at all of our branches. The event was also posted to our social media accounts (e.g. Facebook). To make this event successful, we recruited volunteers, who in turn told their parents and peers about the event.
HR: To publicize the event, we contacted the local newspaper, Leesburg Today. A reporter came to the library and interviewed me and my supervisor. For the article, we discussed the planning process, our inspirations, people and organizations that helped make the event possible, and we described what would happen at the actual event.
MF: For this event we had two types of attendees: regular users of the library and people who do not use the library as much. For the regulars, our Pages and fliers worked to bring people in. We found that the Leesburg Today interview helped bring people who were not regulars. With all of our promotional tools, we were able to bring in people from around the county and surrounding counties.
After all of the planning and research you both did in preparation, how did you feel about the outcome?
HR: We were amazed at the outcome. The event was a success with nearly 150 attendees. People of all ages came out and enjoyed two interactive lectures and several hands-on activities.
MF: The program was a great success. We were initially hoping for about 50 attendees, and in fact, we increased that number by 300 percent, which is a wonderful accomplishment for any program inside and outside the library. It was an added bonus that everyone who came to the program left with new knowledge about their brain.
What do you find to be the most effective way to reach out to young people who may not be naturally inclined to brain science?
MF: For the kids younger than 12, they tend to absorb information more effectively if there is a hands-on component. So, in my opinion, presenting information with a hands-on activity not only gets the kids engaged, but excited about what they are learning about. In our case, we had NeuroInspire (a teen group from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County) bring in sheep’s brains, which the kids tried their hand at dissecting. With each incision, the teens explained what bodily actions were controlled by that section of the brain.
Also, the items that were kindly donated by the Dana Foundation (activity books, stickers, etc.) allowed not only the kids, but all of the program attendees, to take additional literature and activities home with them to read through at their leisure.
HR: We found that the most effective way to reach out to teens who were not naturally inclined to brain science was by creating volunteer opportunities for the teens to help out at the event. Each of the activity booths at the event were run by teen volunteers who had attended an orientation earlier in the month. The teens explained how each of the activities benefitted the brain or they taught about how the brain worked. For teens who were not volunteering, we found that the best way to include them was to use the same tactics we used with the younger children, which was creating more hands-on activities for them to interact with.
What are you planning for Brain Awareness Week this year?
HR: For Ashburn Library’s Brain Awareness Day 2015, we will be having two speakers/presenters. Our first presenter is from Noldus Information Technology and our second presenter is Dr. Robert Slevc from the University of Maryland. We will be having similar activities from last year’s event. The new addition to 2015’s event is our booth portion. We will be hosting several local neuroscience-related organizations who will have booths to present how their companies use/incorporate neuroscience at their workplace. We hope that this will open the public’s eyes to the neuroscience field and inspire youth to pursue careers in neuroscience or any other scientific field.
MF: For this year, my focus was to spread the message regarding brain awareness to other branches countywide. As of right now, I have a total of five library branches doing some form of program to support the main Brain Awareness Week program. Some library branches are hosting book clubs with books regarding some information about the brain; two library branches are hosting story times with guest presenters with extensive knowledge about neuroscience; and one branch is hosting a teen Science Saturday program about brains. A sixth branch may have an event for teens in their teen center.