Gallaudet’s first ASL-English Bilingual Summer School in Cognitive and Educational Neuroscience welcomed students for a six-week course designed to encourage them to pursue scientific careers. It is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, via a grant (award 2150106) to Dr. Ilaria Berteletti, associate professor in the Ph.D. Program in Educational Neuroscience.

“This [program] was born from the recognition that we don’t have a great pipeline to bring in deaf students who recognize themselves as being potential researchers,” says Berteletti, Director of the Numeracy and Educational Neuroscience Laboratory, part of Gallaudet’s Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2). “But we have a lot of knowledge, and we saw the opportunity to provide an accessible summer school.”

The goal is to give undergraduates hands-on experience by placing them with VL2’s laboratories, and making sure that they are familiar with various neuroimaging methods, such as EEG, fNIRS, and fMRI. “We want to show them live what it looks like,” Berteletti says. They will also explore ethical considerations in neuroscience. For example, Berteletti says, “If I’m working with a deaf population, I need to make sure the consent form is accessible.” Issues could arise about confidentiality, compensation, or other topics.

“Once they leave, they will have a better sense of what research means and they will have been inspired to continue,” Berteletti says. “And they have something on their CV to convince a lab to hire them. We are creating this foundation to bring them to the next level.”

Three students from Gallaudet, as well as three from other institutions, were selected to participate this summer. They will each receive on-campus housing, travel expenses, $245 per week for food, and a $600 per week stipend. In addition, they will be able to network with peers and receive guidance from mentors, who can help them navigate future course selection and applying to graduate school.

Dr. Ilaria Berteletti presents to a group of faculty and new students sitting in a U format.
Dr. Ilaria Berteletti and other faculty from Gallaudet’s Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning welcome students to the new program.

For Katie McClyman, a psychology major at Gallaudet who just finished her sophomore year, this summer is her chance to explore. “One of the coolest things is just meeting everyone and seeing all the labs. I’ve also enjoyed learning about all the different projects that are being worked on,” says McClyman, who appreciates that everything is being taught in American Sign Language.

Alexandro Taylor-Young, a participant from the University of San Francisco, says he has been “vibrating with excitement” since he was accepted into the summer school. He plans to enroll in an M.D./Ph.D. program after graduation, so he is eager to learn more about lab research. “This is giving me such a better idea of what a career would look like,” says Taylor-Young, who is especially thrilled to be working under Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, VL2’s Science Director, and looking at how the brain processes language. “I cited her studies in a paper for one of my psychology classes. I feel like I’m meeting a celebrity,” he adds.

If this one-year trial is successful, Berteletti plans to apply for additional NSF funding to create a five-year program, which would make it possible for students to return for a second summer. “They would build over two years, dive deeper, and become leaders,” she says.

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