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Speaker series kicks off at Kentlake

Eric Chudler, a research associate professor in bioengineering at the University of Washington, talks about the brain during a lecture at Kentlake.  - Kris Hill, The Reporter
Eric Chudler, a research associate professor in bioengineering at the University of Washington, talks about the brain during a lecture at Kentlake.
— image credit: Kris Hill, The Reporter

Eric Chudler hopped on one foot, talked to the audience and juggled simultaneously on the stage of the Kentlake High Performing Arts Center.

Chudler, a research associate professor in the bioengineering department at the University of Washington faculty, did that trick to demonstrate the power of the brain. He is the first speaker of a year-long series.

The series, sponsored in partnership by the Kent School District, the University of Washington and the Covington Rotary, came out of conversations Kentlake Principal Joe Potts had with representatives from the university, explained Assistant Principal Ian McFeat.

Jim Tanasse, a Kentlake parent and member of the Covington Rotary, said the speaker series was a result of brainstorming by the school’s administrators.

“Then that led to some conversations with the Covington Rotary, as well, so we just decided to create a lecture series to broaden the intellectual conversation at the school,” McFeat said.

Tanasse said the discussions he had with Potts were initially focused on the efforts to bring a greater range of UW courses to the high school.

“Joe and I had a dialogue about this whole notion of how we make UW happen at Kentlake, the whole notion of keeping students on campus,” Tanasse said. “A lot of the dialogue was… how are we going to make sure all the kids have access to that education process.”

That is where Covington Rotary stepped in to offer some financial as well as moral support. Tanasse found a double matching grant which took the club’s $3,000 and turned it into $9,000, allowing the club to underwrite the cost of UW in the High School courses for kids.

“The speaker series kind of came out of bringing the UW program to Kentlake,” Tanasse said. “The whole notion is getting kids to see beyond just the learning in the classroom but the practical side of professionals… who are excited about what they do and connecting the dots. That was the big vision.”

The series is part of a broader effort, McFeat said, to raise the academic bar at Kentlake.

“A lot of the subjects and topics encourage students and community members to look at themselves and imagine possibilities and to stretch themselves in a way they hadn’t done before,” McFeat said. “The lectures are meant to inspire kids to think about issues in different ways.”

With that goal in mind, McFeat explained, school administrators looked at areas of cutting edge research happening at UW and “really, there’s some amazing things going on.”

“We were able to contact Dr. Eric Chudler, who has been doing some amazing brain research,” McFeat said. “He’s just gotten a grant for $18 million. He’s the founder and director of Neuroscience for Kids, which is pretty amazing.”

Chudler, who made the audience laugh through a series of interactive exercises to demonstrate how the brain functions, said it is important to give such lectures when asked.

“I feel that as a member of the community, even though I don’t live out here, and as a member of the University of Washington faculty, it’s my obligation to give back to the community,” he said after the lecture.

Chudler tackled a number of topics ranging from the ethics of neuroscience to the size as well as the anatomy and of the brain to myths such as humans only use 90 percent of the brain.

“We know a lot about the brain, but, there’s a lot we don’t know,” he said. “It’s a complete myth that you use only 10 percent of your brain. You use 100 percent of your brain, just not all at the same time.”

While discussing the size of the human brain, he walked around with a model of an average brain in his hand, pointing to charts that plotted the ratio of the size of the brain compared to the size of the body it resides in.

And the idea that people act weirder during a full moon, Chudler said, is also a myth.

“There’s no correlation between the phase of the moon and abnormal behavior,” he said. “People who believe the full moon effect most are medical personnel and law enforcement... they saw bad things happen and one way they can reduce the stress is to blame it on the moon.”

Among the speakers are a genetic counselor who will talk about the work she does with patients, an oncologist at UW who will discuss the roles of women in medicine and the founders of Foldit, which McFeat said is “amazing that they agreed to come out for this…. that’s really huge.”

“In March we have Dr. Kevin King coming and he’s going to be talking about the adolescent brain and risks and abuse,” McFeat said. “He’s a dynamic speaker.”

Speakers will offer presentations both at night and during the school day, McFeat said.

“It’s an opportunity to start having in-depth conversations about opportunities in academia and about the world that’s beyond high school and for students to start to see some connections to what they’re doing now,” McFeat said. “That’s what education is really about, it’s about lifelong learning. What we’ve put together is something that is going to enhance the rigor… it’s going to expand the types of opportunities students can envision for themselves.”

Tanasse said Covington Rotary is pleased to support such an endeavor.“I’m pumped up about it,” he said. “We’re just honored and happy that we can be part of the solution. This is something that will benefit the teachers and the students and the community, as well.”

Following his lecture, Chudler spent time speaking with students tackling questions about neurological disorders, model of a human brain in hand.

“I hope that they were able to think about questions about the brain,” he said. “I hope they leave wanting to know more. Now is a time to ask questions. I hope I left them with questions and gave them some answers.”

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