e-Newsletter of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary | January 22, 2013 Twitter Facebook

Sasha Halasz '13 wins prestigious award

Sasha Halasz ’13

Moravian College neuroscience major Sasha Halasz ’13 has received the 2012 Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience Travel Award. The prestigious award is given to only one student internationally each year. The award paid all of Sasha’s travel expenses to attend the 2012 annual meeting of the Society in New Orleans—the largest conference in the discipline—from October 13 to 17.

As part of her award package, Halasz had the opportunity to present her work at several events during the conference. These events included the SfN Outreach Poster Session and the Faculty for Undergraduate Social and Brain Awareness Week workshop. Halasz’s presentations focused on the brain awareness outreach work that she does with the Lehigh Valley chapter of the SfN and as a part of Moravian College’s Brain Club. She was also recognized during the brain awareness event by the president of the Society.

Halasz says she had a great time exchanging outreach ideas with members of other chapters, attending lectures, seeing the work done by scientists in the field and the equipment they use, and learning about research from the highest-level Ph.D. work to local community projects, “It is something that will stay with me forever,” she says.

Halasz, the Lehigh Valley chapter of the SfN, and the Moravian College Brain Club do a variety of work to promote brain awareness in the Lehigh Valley. Their outreach programs include Brain Awareness Day, a science reading partnership with Cops and Kids, the Brain Book Club, and Sharing Knowledge. Their Brain Awareness Day event is held at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, and brings together neuroscience-related groups from Lehigh University, and Moravian, Lafayette, Muhlenberg, and Cedar Crest colleges. The event is meant to make learning about science fun for the children and comprises over 30 stations with unique, educational, and fun neuroscience-related activities for the children and families.

The partnership with Cops and Kids presents a scaled-down version of Brain Awareness Day for disadvantaged children. Halasz always enjoyed the fun experiments that her school’s science classes offered and claims that her experiences with these programs have been eye-opening for her, “I took it for granted. My school always made science fun.”

The work done by Halasz and her colleagues has also sparked a fruitful collaboration with the Moravian Village Retirement Home that includes two of their most successful programs, the Brain Book Club and the Sharing Knowledge program. The bi-weekly Brain Book Club, which is currently funded through a Moravian College Community Leadership grant, brings together volunteers and members of the Moravian Village community to read literature focusing on brain-related topics and to discuss advances in brain research. In the Sharing Knowledge program, Moravian students from multiple disciplines who have completed independent research give presentations and answer questions about their work, allowing all participants to share their knowledge and experiences.

Cecilia Fox, associate professor of biological sciences and founder and president of the Lehigh Valley SfN Chapter and advisor to the Brain Club, co-wrote the Travel Award grant that allowed Halasz to attend the conference in New Orleans and sponsored Halasz’s nomination. Fox states that the goal of brain outreach is, “To educate all people about the brain and benefits of brain research, hoping they will understand and vote for representatives who will support science funding, and to teach children that science is a field of study that is not out of their reach.”

Students at the Let's Check Out Your Brain Waves station (EEG) during Brain Awareness Day 2012 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Fox is also adamant about emphasizing the great work done in research and outreach by undergraduate students such as Halasz. She says, “We do some pretty amazing things at Moravian. We’re too humble about it.” Halasz is also proud of the work that she and other Moravian students have done, saying her award is an example of how much can be accomplished at a small undergraduate institution. Fox acknowledged that there is something particularly special about Moravian students, “I’m always saying how great our students are. The best thing is to see them take the ball and run with it . . . They’re competent, creative, and motivated leaders.”

The leadership experience that Halasz gained at the conference is something that will stick with her after she graduates in May. She states that the work that she has done to win the award has taught her valuable leadership skills such as how to advertise what she is doing, how to apply for grants, and how to reach out to people in her community. For now, her immediate plans are to go to medical school.

She says, “I want to make a difference in people’s lives.” She has already been accepted to many medical schools and now just has to see which one is the best fit for her. As of now, she does not know in which specialty she will focus, but she is leaving her options open to see where her skills fit and what she likes the most.

See a video about Halasz's work and goals here.