Upfront

For years, the psychology faculty at the College of Charleston has offered workshops to local preschools and elementary schools to teach students about the ways our environment influence our brains. But when the department won one of APA's Advance Interdisciplinary Education and Training in Psychology Grants, the college was able to expand its audience up through 12th grade.

With the help of the $3,000 prize, the team now goes to local high schools, magnet schools and specialized high schools to demonstrate the interplay between psychology, biology and environment. Armed with SpikerBoxes that show how brain cells communicate, the team uses crickets to show students how the brain's nerve signals change in response to such substances as nicotine or caffeine.

"With APA funding, we can do a lot more," says faculty member Susan Jane Simonian, PhD.

Seeing the light bulb go off when the kids realize how chemistry, biology, environment and society come together to affect a person's psychology is incredibly rewarding, says Simonian. "Once we get them engaged, it opens up the door," she says. The added bonus is that the demos can naturally spark conversations about drugs and the impact they can have on the body and brain.

The awards are part of a push by APA's Board of Educational Affairs to recognize and support programs that foster collaboration among disciplines and teach students the value of multidisciplinary studies. "If we're going to harness psychology's potential to address the larger societal problems, we need to be prepared to participate in interdisciplinary solutions," says Cynthia Belar, PhD, who heads APA's Education Directorate.

A second APA interdisciplinary grant went to Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. Faculty there used the funds to create a summer research exchange between Davidson and neighboring Furman University, allowing a Davidson student to work at Furman with a recognized leader in the field of memory. "[The student] was able to do something different from what was happening in the labs on our campus," says psychology chair Cole Barton, PhD. And this, he says, can open students up to a new dimension of understanding within their areas of specialty.

"Interdisciplinarity … creates a more complete contextual whole that transforms our understanding of a problem and the ways students and researchers think," says Cole. "That's what it's really all about."

— A.G. Walton