Azusa Pacific held its third annual celebration of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) April 7–11, joining in the international initiative established in 1996 to raise awareness about brain health and advances in neurobiological research.
This year, Skyla Herod, Ph.D., associate professor in APU’s Department of Biology and Chemistry and BAW organizer, chose the theme “Traumatic Brain Injury,” a relevant issue today, especially considering the plethora of sports-related head injuries. “The campus-wide sponsoring of this event represents the university’s commitment to excellence in academics and athletics, and the safety and well-being of our students, especially student-athletes,” said Herod. “BAW 2014 brought a spirit of encouragement and cooperation to the national discussion of advocating for smarter and safer sports.”
On campus, Herod and her student team staffed an information booth intended to spark conversation and promote education. The university also welcomed Christopher Nowinski, a Harvard University graduate, collegiate football athlete, former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler, and cofounder of Sports Legacy Institute (SLI). As featured in his autobiography Head Games and the recent documentary of the same name, Nowinski played a pivotal role in bringing the issue of lasting effects of concussion injury to the forefront by collaborating with SLI to study athletes’ damaged brains and publish the findings.
The topic of concussions stands as one of the most pressing issues in sports today. New research on the long-term consequences of brain trauma is forcing rapid changes in the way athletes compete and the medical care they receive. In his lecture, Nowinski provided an engaging overview of the concussion crisis. Beginning with his personal journey from Harvard football to WWE, where he developed postconcussion syndrome, the lecture explored the culture wars preventing appropriate change, the latest medical research, and paths toward creating greater safety awareness in sports.
APU also hosted a panel discussion featuring members of the APU athletic training team, APU campus physicians, and local neurologists specializing in traumatic brain injuries. The panel worked together to train students, faculty, and staff in better identifying the symptoms of concussions and implementing treatment plans that promote safe activity in college sports and serve the neurological safety of the community.
Reaching beyond campus, APU hosted the third annual Brain Awareness Fair at three local Azusa Unified School District middle schools, educating more than 750 seventh grade students about the importance of brain health. Herod’s neurobiology students led kids in hands-on learning and natural discovery with puzzles, trivia, take-home games, and exhibits featuring a 10-foot inflatable brain, human and sheep brains, and interactive experiments.
“With cuts in K–12 funding, this is often the only hands-on lab these kids experience all year,” said Herod. “As a result of serving, my neurobiology students come away with a sense of responsibility and renewed excitement to participate in service through educational outreach.”