For eight weeks, 35 students from public and private schools delved into various topics in neuroscience.
By Liz Yanira Del Valle
Diverse, curious, surprising and hopeful. Thus were the 35 testimonies of the high school students who participated in the first Sagrado Neuroscience Pre-college Program (SNPP).
The SNPP successfully closed this challenging edition of the novel internship created by the initiative of two Puerto Rican scientists and the School of Professional Studies – Sagrado Global with the aim of promoting the early development of future “neurorricans”.
While many of these young people aspire to careers in neurosurgery, neuropsychology, bioengineering, or industrial mechanics, others are drawn to fields ranging from artificial intelligence to video game design. It was clear from their interventions that the internship helped them reaffirm previous interests or discover new ones.
For Verónica Maldonado Ortiz, a ninth grade student at the Mayagüez Montessori School, the conference on the effects of meditation on the brain was the most impactful of the entire program. This young lady wants to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or in Australia, specifically in the area of therapy or physical training applying meditation to help Puerto Rican athletes in track and field sports.
Meanwhile, Sebastián Negrón Collazo, a tenth grader at the Villalba Residential Center for Educational Opportunities, was impressed by the lecture about synapses and electrical signals. He already knows “his thing” will be studies on brain circuits and connections.
As for Sofía Félix, an eleventh grader of the Central School of Visual Arts, she wants to work in a branch of linguistics or neurolinguistics.
Meanwhile, Angélica González Silva, who is in eleventh grade at Estancia Montessori, will go on to study neurolaw to assist adolescents and children in juvenile detention.
The directors of the SNPP, Dr. Edmarie Guzmán Vélez, specialist in Neuropsychology at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Dr. Héctor De Jesús Cortés, from the MIT Center for Cognitive Sciences, moderated the closing activity, which was held virtually just like the internship due to the pandemic.
For both of them, despite the challenges they faced, the students of the SNPP did an outstanding job, blowing away not only them, but also the group of scientists who participated in the conference with their questions and curiosity.
“We hope that they are now ambassadors for neuroscience in their respective schools. Throughout Puerto Rico, there are schools with students who, just like these, have a high-caliber potential for science,” said De Jesús Cortés.
In fact, both scientists are hopeful about the continuation of the program, which included a large group of science professionals to serve as mentors to the participants.
“This does not end here. The idea is to match the students with mentors, according to their interests”, explained Guzmán Vélez.
The closing of the internship featured the president of the Sagrado Corazón University, Gilberto J. Marxuach Torrós, who expressed his thanks, as well as the vice president of academic affairs, Jorge Silva Puras, and the manager of Sagrado Global, Beba Alvarado. Out of 546 applications received for the SNPP, only 35 talented students were selected –from both public and private schools – who, during eight weeks, delved into various topics of neuroscience with the help of internationally renowned specialists.