Our Organization

Brain Week Rhode Island (BWRI) celebrates international Brain Awareness Week, a campaign to increase awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. Each year in March, we collaborate with over 30 partners across the state to host free, fun events that teach about the wonders of the human brain. In addition, we run an educational program called BRAINY Visits to K-12 schools throughout the month on March. 

First launched in 2016, BWRI has more than doubled in audience, sponsorship, and scientific scope. In 2019, we reached between 1,000 and 2,000 students through the BRAINY Visits program and welcomed over 2,000 attendees to our events, which featured dozens of notable panelists, performers, and top experts in their respective fields – doctors, administrators, professors, dancers, artists, patients and patient advocates among others.

 

Mission: Since 2016, Brain Week Rhode Island has had one mission, to share the wealth of neuroscience research happening right here in the Ocean State. This includes everything from basic research, to understanding how genes and circuits operate in the brain, to cutting-edge clinical work restoring lost function in people with neuromuscular disorders. We’re bringing together experts in many fields to make brain science and brain health accessible for everyone. By combining this science with our vast creative capital, BWRI showcases the work happening here, and promotes a growing biomedical economic sector that holds great promise for Rhode Island’s future. 

Specific goals: BWRI aims to (1) increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research, (2) educate and inspire the next generation of neuroscientists in Rhode Island, and (3) showcase the wealth of neuroscience activity and advocacy in Rhode Island.

Our Events

Watch this short promotional video to get a feel for the events we host in March every year.

Our Story

Inspiration: In 2015, three family members set out to develop Brain Week Rode Island (BWRI). They were driven by the experience of mental illness in their family and liked to joke that “brains are the family business”. Victoria (a neuroscientist), Hakon (a science writer / advocate / research consultant), and Alden (a PhD in literature) had worked together on Cure Alliance for Mental Illness, a national non-profit that Hakon founded in 2009. 

One summer, while canvassing in RI to advocate for more research on mental illness, they realized not everyone was on board with a federal research agenda. They heard misguided comments like “addiction is a made up disease,” “drugs are never the answer,” “scientists keep changing their minds,” “stem cells/animals in research shouldn’t be allowed,” and the classic “did they really spend my tax dollar on that?”. It became clear to the co-founders of BWRI that they first needed to raise awareness about the very basics of brain science. Since they are loyal RI transplants (from Puerto Rico, Sweden, and DC!), they decided to focus on the research produced in our very own state. 

New ideas: They got to work right away to create BWRI, a celebration of the wonders of the human brain and the research that gave us the insight. They wanted to highlight how important and relevant brain research is to our daily lives. For example, “How have cells in a dish changed my quality of life?”, “How can rats be used to study memory?”. They also wanted to tackle a whole bunch of myths about the brain like “we use only 10% of our brain,” “we are left/right brained,” “the mind is different from the brain,” or “mirror neurons explain our feelings”. Finally, they wanted to educate people about brain-related conditions, from the neuropsychiatric (OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar, addiction, depression), to the neurological (Alzheimer’s, migraines, traumatic brain injury), and the developmental (ASD). 

Ideas to action: But they didn’t want to bore people with dull science lectures! So instead they came up with fun, light-hearted ways to sneak in some learning: art fairs, science fairs, dance workshops, art exhibitions, and yeah, a few lectures too :-). BWRI caught on pretty quickly thanks to the enthusiasm of scientists, clinicians, and educators in Rhode Island. Sponsors were quick to support them and graduate students, faculty, clinicians, and administrators were quick to lend helping hands. Today we are proud to stand by all of our collaborators, sponsors, and partners to bring you fun, free, and relevant brain science. 

The Story Collider in 2019 at the Comedy Connection. Photo by Justin Case

Marvelous Marvin's Brain Circus at the URI Brain Fair in 2018

 

Executive Committee Members

 

Victoria Heimer-McGinn (Chair)

Dr. Heimer-McGinn is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Roger Williams University. She earned her PhD in molecular neuroscience from University College Cork in Ireland and received postdoctoral training in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience at both Brown University and Providence College. She has worked on projects related to spatial memory, spatial context, attention, aging, working memory, and transgenic technologies. Dr. Heimer-McGinn is passionate about outreach/advocacy and loves to spread her joy and enthusiasm for the brain. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she is especially dedicated to increasing female and minority representation in STEM fields.

 

Arielle Nitenson

Dr. Nitenson is a Health Program Evaluator at the State of Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). Previously serving as an Assistant Professor of Physiological Psychology at Rhode Island College, Arielle earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Biology Secondary Education) and a PhD in Neuroscience from Brown University. As an advocate for improving the quality of science education, Arielle strives to make science accessible to the general public.

 

Lauren Palmaccio, LMHC

Lauren is a licensed psychotherapist in MA and RI and recipient of the National Honors in Psychology. She has spent the last decade specializing in children, adolescent, couples, and marriage counseling. She also seeks to and treat and understand anxiety, depression, and trauma/PTSD. She is a member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association and the International Association of Trauma Professionals, and holds particular interest in the bio-psychosocial corollaries of behavior and childhood brain development.

Claire Kokoska

Claire is an associate for a renewable energy consultancy and also serves as a freelance digital marketing and branding consultant. Earning her undergraduate degree from Union College, Claire focused her thesis on the psychology of childhood development, carrying that interest with her in organizing this year’s BRAINY Visits with the team at the Robert J. & Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science at Brown University.

Amy Gabarra

Amy is a political fundraising consultant working for elected officials at every level of Rhode Island government since 1994. Her current and past clients include Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman David Cicilline and Hon. Myrth York. She's been involved in almost every major statewide election over the past 20 years. Her expertise includes event planning and she has been crucial in the organizing of this year’s Brain Week RI. She is driven to bring knowledge of mental health and neuroscience to Rhode Island.

Alastair Tulloch

Alastair is a doctoral candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Brown University. His research focus is on the embryonic signaling mechanisms that lead to nervous system wiring during human development. As a former educator in high school science classrooms, he has a strong desire to connect science from the bench to the greater community.

 

Founding Members

 

Victoria Heimer-McGinn (Chair)

Dr. Heimer-McGinn is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Roger Williams University. She earned her PhD in molecular neuroscience from University College Cork in Ireland and received postdoctoral training in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience at both Brown University and Providence College. She has worked on projects related to spatial memory, spatial context, attention, aging, working memory, and transgenic technologies. Dr. Heimer-McGinn is passionate about outreach/advocacy and loves to spread her joy and enthusiasm for the brain. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she is especially dedicated to increasing female and minority representation in STEM fields.

 

Hakon Heimer

Hakon is co-founder and CEO of Cure Alliance for Mental Illness, the creator of Brain Week RI. In addition, he is founding editor of Schizophrenia Research Forum, in honor of his brother, and a program advisor for cognitive disorders at the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.Previously, he served on the Council of Councils of the National Institutes of Health and the Council for the National Institute of Mental Health from.Hakon currently serves as a Senior Research Consultant to Københavns Universitet (the University of Copenhagen), advising on projects related to precision medicine and neuroscience projects.

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