The NEURON Program: Utilizing Low-Cost Neuroscience for Remote Education Outreach

Bassil Ramadan1,2, Ulises M. Ricoy1,2,3
1Department of Neuroscience, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721; 2Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Undergraduate Program, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721; 3Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Science, Northern New Mexico College, Española, NM 87532.

The NEURON initiative (Neuroscience Education in Undergraduate Research, Outreach, and Networking) is a free program engaging first year students, including underrepresented minority (URM) students in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (NSCS) at the University of Arizona (UA). The NEURON program builds on former Grass Foundation-sponsored workshops run by Dr. Ricoy (2010-2019) implementing hands-on and culturally responsive active learning curriculum with low-cost equipment from Backyard Brains to increase student retention of URM students in the sciences at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI). We present the implementation of the NEURON program at the onset of the COVID pandemic. Combining best practices of distance learning and peer mentoring, we conducted three-week projects exploring principles of neuroscience and neurophysiology. Enrollment and demographic data from NSCS at the UA demonstrate historical disenfranchisement and program attrition primarily impacting URM students. As an extension on previous URM peer mentorship programs in Neuroscience (Ricoy, presentation at Northern New MexicoCollege Research Symposium, 2010, 2011; presentation at Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americas in Science, 2012), we leveraged low-cost equipment and remote sessions to advance the community of undergraduate mentors and pair with high school mentees on hands-on curriculum. Throughout the program, undergraduate mentors received guidance while crafting and delivering four laboratory lessons to mentees. By coordinating with a Title I school, we better connected with historically underserved students. Critical to this program was providing hands-on opportunities to students who were undergoing distance-based learning during the pandemic. Distribution of equipment allowed high school students to experiment remotely, guided by undergraduate mentors. The NEURON program met its objectives of fostering both mentors and mentees as burgeoning scientists.