"Sharing Knowledge" Works on Many Levels

Sharing Knowledge presentations included Alex Santoro's "Indigenous Communities of the Western Australia Outback" (above) and Jason Ginther's "The Convex Hull Problem: A Classic Problem in Computational Geometry." Photo J Kish IV

It's a simple idea with a multitude of benefits: Moravian students share their knowledge of a topic they love with the senior residents of Bethlehem's Moravian Village.

In the process, students hone their presentation skills and experience the satisfaction of volunteer community work, as Moravian Village attendees learn from the presentations and, afterward, share their own knowledge with students.

"My hope is for students to talk about something they find really exciting," said psychology professor Sarah Johnson, who developed her idea for the new "Sharing Knowledge" program in her "Cognition and Aging" class. "Even if the audience is small but engaged, that's perfect. The goal is to make it fun and a good experience for everyone."

Johnson hopes the program will help establish a multi-level relationship with Moravian Village. Residents could also volunteer to participate in research projects involving Moravian faculty members and students, while more Moravian students volunteer to assist the residents.

"I absolutely loved it," said Chiarella. "Besides gaining experience coordinating the project, I had the opportunity to socialize with the older adults and learn from them."

Tara Chiarella '10, Johnson's research assistant and work-study student, coordinated the fall speakers and presentations. "I absolutely loved it," she said. "Besides gaining experience coordinating the project I had the opportunity to socialize with the older adults and learn from them."

Working with Professor Johnson last semester, Chiarella also began collecting research data through individual meetings with residents at Moravian Village for Johnson’s work on memory. The research, which will continue this semester, is aimed at understanding how the brain clusters memories and how it switches from one cluster to another.

"I love the sense of discovery with this research," said Chiarella, who plans to study cognitive psychology in graduate school. "Everything we test or learn gives us a greater understanding of the inner workings of the brain. Everything builds on previous knowledge so that new imaginative ideas can go on and on in a sort of chain reaction. For me, this is really exciting, because we still know so little about human memory despite the milestone gains we have made."

Johnson will present some of her research on semantic memory and executive function this month at a neuroscience conference in Boston. Neuroscience major Rania Hanna '12, whose summer SOAR research involved working with Johnson's data collected from younger adults, will be a co-author on the poster. "One of the great things about studying neuroscience at Moravian is that students have a wide range of research possibilities," added Johnson. "They can work with me on the human level, with Professor Cecilia Fox on the cellular level, or Professor Chris Jones on the genetic level."

Students interested in participating in the Sharing Knowledge program at Moravian Village this spring may contact Shaz Gangji, program coordinator. Faculty members also are encouraged to suggest student presenters for any topic. "It doesn’t require a lot of time," said Johnson. "Students give a practice presentation and we offer tips from what we've learned. It helps them develop better communication skills."