Kristin Scaplen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology at Bryant University and a Faculty Fellow with Bryant’s Center for Health and Behavioral Sciences (CHBS) devotes her research to unlocking the mysteries of the nervous system through neuroscience—and to sharing the answers she finds with others. A trio of preserved brain specimens recently acquired by the University’s School of Health and Behavioral Sciences (SHBS) will provide a whole new perspective on the subject for Bryant’s students, she says.
“Teaching the three-dimensional structure of the brain using a two-dimensional book can be really challenging,” notes Scaplen. “Using these specimens in the classroom will be a powerful tool for teaching neuroscience and neuroanatomy.”
Scaplen thrives on providing that sort of singular experience for her students. By guiding them through key experiential learning opportunities, she helps them to develop the skills and knowledge that will prepare them for bright futures and to better understand what it truly means to be a scientist.
Bryant’s School of Health and Behavioral Sciences is addressing the growing demand for healthcare experts by offering a unique interdisciplinary education that integrates studies in health sciences, cognitive and behavioral sciences, data analytics and business. A focus on applying what you’ve learned in the classroom through fieldwork, internships, and research opportunities ensures that graduates emerge with a skillset that will empower them to successfully navigate the interconnected nature of human health and wellness
The new brain specimens are just one of the many tools Bryant students can take advantage of to bring their studies to life. From their first year, SHBS students can engage in research using utilizing state-of-the-art equipment typically reserved for graduate students at larger institutions under the guidance of expert faculty.
Real world experience can a powerful teacher, notes Scaplen, who recently secured a grant from the Rhode Island IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (RI-INBRE) to continue her research into how the brain encodes rewarding memories and directs motivated behaviors. By sharing her own expertise with her students—whether by walking them through an examination of a real human brain or mentoring them as they conduct their own research—she aids them in developing into the next generation of researchers, doctors, and science professionals.
“Part of what I do, as a professor and in the lab, is to facilitate connections by introducing students to a new topic or skill and then giving the time and opportunity to decide where to take it,” states Scaplen, whose student researchers have presented their work at venues such as the RI Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium and the 2022 NEURON Conference. “It's really exciting to be able to ask your own questions and then try and answer them.”
“I love seeing the light bulbs go on when a student really comes to understand a topic,” she says. “It can be incredibly rewarding.”
Scaplen also sees opportunities to use the new brain specimens to educate students beyond Bryant University. “Throughout my career, I have been actively engaged in local outreach activities and I would love to incorporate these specimens in a campaign to increase awareness and foster enthusiasm for brain science across all ages,” she says. “They’ll be an invaluable resource to both the classroom and the community.”