PRCEN Phase II – Outreach Programs


The collaboration between the UPR campuses of Medical Sciences, Río Piedras, Bayamón and Cayey, and colleges of the Ana G. Méndez University system will provide our CREST program fellows and faculty with several opportunities to impact the local community. It will also promote the engagement of elementary, middle and high school students through ongoing Phase I programs and newly proposed outreach programs for Phase II. We will encourage participation by students from disadvantaged groups through the continuation of highly successful Phase I outreach programs that include:


Brain Awareness Week (BAW): https://md.rcm.upr.edu/anatomyneurobiology/brain-awareness-week/

In partnership with the Society for Neuroscience BAW, 11th and 12th grade students from three island high schools are invited each year to learn about Neuroscience and the brain. The theme of Environmental Neuroscience has been added as a station in this activity since the establishment of the PRCEN in 2012. The station is designed, set up, and run by the PRCEN undergraduate and graduate fellows, along with the PIs of the Rivers group. This group of students and investigators also visit elementary schools to talk to the students about the nervous system and how it can be affected by contaminants found in the environment. These activities will continue in Phase II and new ones will be added, such as an interactive and evolving bilingual (English/Spanish) webpage designed to increase awareness of the environmental impact of noise pollution.


Capetillo Community Access Program: The Capetillo community is a low-income neighborhood near the Rio Piedras campus. Workshops conducted each summer demonstrate how aquatic organisms can aid in the assessment of ecosystem conditions. During PRCEN Phase II, and a new collaboration will be established with Para la Naturaleza (http://www.paralanaturaleza.org/), a leading nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Puerto Rico. Capetillo Community Access Program activities will include workshops on nature conservation and field trips to nature reserves including Las Cabezas de San Juan in Fajardo (PR; http://www.paralanaturaleza.org/cabezas-de-san-juan-esp/).


Civic programs sponsored by the San Juan Bay Estuary Program (SJBEP), Fellows of the program will continue to be active participants in the SJBEP civic programs. This collaboration includes volunteer work performing monthly water quality monitoring activities throughout the San Juan Bay Estuary (http://www.estuario.org/) and presenting the work of the SJBEP at the annual PRNC.


Participation in the Annual Puerto Rico Neuroscience Conference (PRNC).



CienciaPR  ( https://www.cienciapr.org/) is a nonprofit organization composed of scientists, professionals, students and citizens committed to the advancement of science in Puerto Rico, will provide a direct outlet to more than 7,000 members in the States and elsewhere who have a stake in the development of STEM opportunities on the island. CienciaPR will help promote and disseminate these CREST Cafés that will be held at all participating PRCEN institutions.


CREST Cafés: The mission of the CREST-PRCEN will be transmitted to the general public through CREST Cafés. These colloquia between PRCEN faculty, students and the public will discuss topics related to the program such as global warming and the impact of chemical, light and sound pollution on Puerto Rico’s natural resources.



Family Night: Family and friends are invited to an annual event where students present their research in an informal setting. A faculty member delivers a keynote address about a neuroscience topic of public interest and students present their work in oral or poster formats. Parents are always very interested to learn why their children are spending so much time in the lab. In many instances, parents have expectations for their children to enter health-related professions, and these activities help to acquaint them with other STEM career opportunities. This activity also provides students with an opportunity to share their results and explore collaborations with other CREST students and PIs. In addition to these ongoing community outreach programs, proposed PRCEN Phase II programs include the following initiatives geared toward engaging K-12 students and the general public with the PRCEN mission.


Centro Universitario para el Acceso (CUA: Center for University Access) Program http://www.cua.uprm.edu/public_main/index.php :

The CUA Program will enable the PRCEN Phase II to provide STEM opportunities to students from disadvantaged areas of Puerto Rico by providing teaching laboratories for high school students through their participation in the outreach activities including the fellowship program. The program promotes access to the University of Puerto Rico System and encourages retention and graduation of undergraduate students from the public-school system of Puerto Rico.


From the Backyard to the Science Lab: This new partnership with the Grass Foundation Neuroscience Outreach Program (http://www.grassfoundation.org/) is designed to bring novel low-cost learning tools to community colleges and other institutions that do not have the resources or dedicated space for lab-based neuroscience training. PRCEN faculty and students will 1) train educators in the use and integration of educational software and hardware tools including Crawdad, Neurons in Action and Backyard Brains; 2) provide high school teachers and faculty at undergraduate colleges/universities with the tools necessary to attract students to STEM careers. Post-workshop evaluations will be conducted, and the results will be disseminated to enhance formative improvement of K-12/undergraduate education in STEM programs. We will provide assistance with all software and hardware given to program participants to facilitate the organization of future workshops within their institutions and in the integration of any of the experiments into current or future courses.


The Neuroboricuas, a local non-profit organization founded by neuroscience graduate and undergraduate students (www.neuroboricuas.org)