An illustration of a brain inside a hexagon, surrounded by more hexagons containing images of neurons, atoms, a light bulb, a globe, and a book. Text reads: “Brain Awareness Week: Dana Foundation.”|A white woman stands against a white background, smiling. She has long, curly, brown hair and is wearing a black top.|Five preteens stand around a table in a classroom, with a teacher in the middle holding an electronic tablet. The five students are Black girls with braids and curly hair. The teacher is a white man in a red shirt. There are aluminum trays on the table with craft supplies, including styrofoam balls, and a model of a human spinal cord. In the foreground, a girl with black and blue braids wearing a blue shirt is holding a styrofoam ball and inserting black, white, and blue pipe cleaners.

Spotlight: Brain Awareness Week

We spoke with Kathleen Roina, director of the Dana Education Program at the Dana Foundation, to learn more about Brain Awareness Week and the Dana Foundation's other educational programming. This year, Brain Awareness Week will take place March 13-19. Visit the website or keep reading to learn more and get involved!

What is Brain Awareness Week?

Coordinated by the Dana Foundation, Brain Awareness Week is the global campaign to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science. Every year in mid-March, organizers around the world host activities that share the wonders of the brain, and the impact brain science has on our everyday lives. It’s the signature initiative of our Dana Education program; we give grants to the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and the International Brain Research Organization to award funding to organizers across all continents each year. Keep an eye out in the fall for requests for proposals!

How has the campaign grown over the last 20 years?

Brain Awareness Week began in 1996 as a modest effort involving just 160 organizations in the United States. At the time, it was organized to unite diverse groups from academia, government, and professional and advocacy organizations to amplify the message that investment in brain research is the hope for treatments, preventions, and possible cures for brain diseases and disorders.In the 27 years since its founding, Brain Awareness Week has evolved into a global education initiative with annual events spanning six continents. During the 2022 campaign, events were held in 45 countries, 33 states, and the District of Columbia. The variety of events has also grown in that time. Popular formats include lectures, symposia, and panel discussions; lab tours; brain fairs with hands-on activities; programs at K-12 schools; museum exhibitions; displays at malls, libraries, and community centers; art and literature competitions; concerts and theatrical performances; and social media campaigns.[

A white woman stands against a white background, smiling. She has long, curly, brown hair and is wearing a black top.
Kathleen Roina, Director, Dana Education

What types of educational resources does the Dana Foundation offer?

We offer all types of materials: fact sheets, lesson plans, short informal learning activities that we call “brain breaks,” as well as brain-themed puzzles with word searches, crosswords, etc. All of these can be found online, and printed and shared. On the Dana Foundation website, these resources are searchable by age range (elementary school, middle school, high school, and adults), but a number of them are also shared on LabXchange. Moving forward, we will be supporting the creation of new materials through grants, which will also be shared on our site.

What is your organization's vision for science education?

The Dana Foundation envisions a future when neuroscience can both inform and reflect society. By listening and responding to people of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures—as well as professionals from other disciplines—neuroscience can help improve the lives of individuals and communities. To get to this point, however, there is a need to provide reliable and relatable neuroscience information for public audiences. In a recent national survey conducted by Research!America and supported by the Dana Foundation, Americans reported they are curious and hopeful about brain health research, but 66% said they have little or no knowledge about it.

The Dana Education program helps fill this need by supporting initiatives that spark interest in and advance understanding around neuroscience and the many ways it interfaces with our everyday lives. We support accessible neuroscience, whether it’s taught in classrooms or presented in more casual settings such as museums, libraries, and even pubs or coffee shops. Many of the events that take place during Brain Awareness Week are prime examples of public engagement around neuroscience.

Tell us what motivates you to create your amazing content!

A lot of the ideas for our educational materials were sourced from educators themselves! Whether during conversations at science teacher conferences, or in response to Brain Awareness Week surveys. We are inspired by the dedication of teachers and informal educators, and we want to help support them with resources that may inspire the next generation of neuroscientists.

Five preteens stand around a table in a classroom, with a teacher in the middle holding an electronic tablet. The five students are Black girls with braids and curly hair. The teacher is a white man in a red shirt. There are aluminum trays on the table with craft supplies, including styrofoam balls, and a model of a human spinal cord. In the foreground, a girl with black and blue braids wearing a blue shirt is holding a styrofoam ball and inserting black, white, and blue pipe cleaners.
At a 2022 Brain Awareness Week event, faculty and medical students from the Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine and graduate students from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute lead discussions with kids from the West End Center for Youth (Roanoke, VA). During their session on the musculoskeletal system, kids from the West End Center do a craft that shows how tendons and muscles move fingers of the hand.

At a 2022 Brain Awareness Week event, faculty and medical students from the Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine and graduate students from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute lead discussions with kids from the West End Center for Youth (Roanoke, VA). During their session on the musculoskeletal system, kids from the West End Center do a craft that shows how tendons and muscles move fingers of the hand.


Can you describe a memorable Brain Awareness Week experience?

We’re always impressed by the creativity of Brain Awareness Week organizers and how they adapt their annual programs based on the interests and needs of their communities. In the second year of the pandemic, this was particularly apparent. In March 2020, everything started to shut down the week before Brain Awareness Week, so unfortunately most events had to be cancelled. But by 2021, many organizers pivoted to virtual activities—whether panels and lectures, trivia nights, brain fairs, lab tours, town halls, or other formats. While we love the community-engagement aspect of Brain Awareness Week, going virtual did afford organizers an opportunity to reach even wider audiences—and many did! While numerous events planned for 2023 are back in person, a significant number of organizers continue to utilize the virtual approach.

Written by
Ilyana Sawka
Outreach & Communications Manager

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