FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute Executive Director Receives Prestigious National Science Educator Award

Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., Florida Atlantic University’s Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute executive director, recently received the Society for Neuroscience’s (SfN) 2022 Science Educator Award at the organization’s annual meeting in San Diego. The Science Educator Award celebrates top neuroscientists in the nation that devote their time to research while having made significant contributions in educating the public about neuroscience through outreach, policy and public educational activities for the benefit of the community.

As part of the recognition, Blakely was awarded $5,000 and complimentary travel, lodging and accommodations for SfN’s 2022 meeting where five members of Blakely’s research group presented their most recent findings. The Science Educator Award is supported by the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization dedicated to advancing neuroscience and society through multidisciplinary approaches.

“I am incredibly grateful to receive the Science Educator Award from the Society for Neuroscience. It truly is an honor,” said Blakely. “But we are just beginning the evergreen journey to educate the lay community as to the promise and progress of brain research, work that can also inspire the next generation of neuroscientists, some just becoming aware of where a ‘life of the mind-brain’ continuum and its endless opportunity can take them. I am excited to witness the transfer of neuroscience research into community resources of broader value for youth and more mature audiences.”    

Blakely – an internationally renowned neuroscientist and leading expert in brain neurochemistry, pharmacology and molecular neuroscience – came to FAU in the spring of 2016 as the founding executive director for the university’s neuroscience research institute, a strategic investment in cutting edge brain science and education across colleges and departments. Since the institute’s inception, Blakely has spearheaded the development of FAU as a top-tier research, education and outreach center in South Florida. One example of these activities is the recently initiated FAU Neuroscience Graduate Program, becoming only the second program in the state of Florida to award Ph.D. degrees in neuroscience. Blakely holds the David J.S. Nicholson Distinguished Professorship in Neuroscience – a position that also honors both his significant contributions to brain science and his dedication to engaging the community in the wonders of discovery in STEM education.

“Dr. Blakely is a truly inspirational academic leader with a resume full of groundbreaking scientific discoveries, as well as a passion for sharing his knowledge with our community and nurturing the next generation of neuroscientists,” said FAU President John Kelly. “Dr. Blakely’s vision is helping Florida Atlantic become a leader in neurological and mental health research and education, and I am delighted that his accomplishments were recognized with the well-deserved Science Educator Award.”

As part of the major accomplishments in creating community outreach programs and initiatives dedicated to expanding the public’s knowledge of neuroscience and reducing the stigma of mental illness, Blakely is credited with launching the institute’s ASCEND (Advancing STEM: Community Engagement Through Neuroscience Discovery) program at FAU. ASCEND, funded by the Stiles-Nicholson Foundation, is an innovative program addressing the national shortage of middle and high school students studying science, technology, engineering and math through scientists-led mentoring and educational activities in Palm Beach County.

Additionally, Blakely is credited for developing “Brainy Days,” FAU’s monthlong celebration of the neuroscience initiative. “Brainy Days” is designed to supplement the recognition of national Brain Awareness Week (celebrated annually during the second week of March), through creative community programs that pull back the curtain on the mysteries of the mind and promote brain health and education, and is sponsored annually by the Palm Health Foundation – Palm Beach County’s community foundation for health. Blakely also notes the key role played by Nicole Baganz, Ph.D., director of community engagement and programming, FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, and research assistant professor, FAU Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, and her team in moving both ASCEND and “Brainy Days” to realization.

Blakely also has fostered relationships with integral community partners to inspire neuroscience in the community. Most notably is the partnership with the Cox Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach where Blakely serves as the lead scientific advisor for FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute’s permanent exhibit, “Journey Through the Human Brain,” which has served more than 500,000 children and adults with engaging, interactive and tech-savvy installations. Previously, while serving as the director of the Vanderbilt University/NIMH Silvio Conte Center for Neuroscience Research, Blakely developed the interactive brain exhibit “Brain Matters” located at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks. The exhibit offered the public an interactive experience to engage with state-of-the-art technologies depicting current neuroscience research and its contributions to mental health and well-being.

“The ultimate goal is to bring both basic neuroscience research and solution-oriented brain science efforts to society,” said Blakely. “We often find that researchers limit their activities to what moves through their laboratory but that just isn’t enough in a world where neurogenerative disease and mental illness is at the forefront of our communities – still stigmatized, particularly for mental illness. We need to continue growing a more humane and scientifically literate society, erasing the stigma that all too often shadows those with brain disorders.”

An official statement released from SfN said that the Science Educator Award is one recognition among many others received by Blakely and is “a testament to his commitment to reaching and training individuals from underrepresented and underserved groups … [the award highlights] his passionate commitment to training, mentoring, and outreach [that] has inspired both the next generation of neuroscientists and the community at large.”

To learn more about the Society for Neuroscience, visit https://www.sfn.org.

 

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About Florida Atlantic University:

Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students across six campuses located along the southeast Florida coast. In recent years, the University has doubled its research expenditures and outpaced its peers in student achievement rates. Through the coexistence of access and excellence, FAU embodies an innovative model where traditional achievement gaps vanish. FAU is designated a Hispanic-serving institution, ranked as a top public university by U.S. News & World Report and a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.

 

About the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute:

Inaugurated in 2016 on the John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter, Fla., the newly named FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, supports research, education and community outreach among more than 100 faculty level researchers at FAU and its affiliate research centers. One of FAU’s four pillars that guide the University’s goals and strategic actions, the Institute seeks to unlock the secrets of brain development, function and plasticity and how the mechanisms uncovered can be compromised to drive devastating brain disorders. From the study of neuronal development and signaling to investigations of brain diseases including addiction, autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, researchers from FAU’s Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute seek to generate knowledge that benefits society. For more information about the Institute and its members, visit http://fau.edu/ibrain/.