Lydia Mandell

Understanding the Human Brain:
A dive into neuroscience

Understanding the Human Brain: Lessons Learned from Neuroscience Research was one of the modules at Miami University Summer Scholars Program. It was lead by Dr. Joyce Fernandes who has been at Miami for 19 years. This was her third summer teaching this module. Fernandes was excited to teach the course, saying “I have always been a big advocate of undergraduate research, and I thought through this program I can introduce students to the research that goes on and neuroscience as a major.”

Neuroscience students present on early life stress and neurodegeneration to classmates. — Photo by Lydia Mandell

The module itself had Miami neuroscience faculty come in to talk to students about the kind of work and research they do. The class covered what organisms the researchers use for their studies and why. They also discussed what elements of neuroplasticity are evident in the research, which is “the brain’s ability to adapt to change.”Another major aspect of the course was discussing the three Ts, “tools, technology, and technique.” Fernandes wanted her students to understand how to approach research in the neuroscience field and especially what resources are available to undergraduate researchers at Miami.

Students were also assigned specific subjects to research and do a brief presentation on for the class. This served as background information for that day’s speaker’s work. The students read and discussed science articles, and Fernandes used posters to help them understand the studies. Students also got hands-on experience through labs like dissecting a cow eye to learn about retinal regeneration.

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Student Gali Makias and Dr. Joyce Fernandes. –Photo by Lexi Soltesz

Student Lexi Soltesz said this course was very interesting and made the process of reading research papers less intimidating. It has also made her “feel compelled to go into undergrad research,” regardless of where she goes to school. “It’s a very hard class, but I think that people do enjoy the topic,” Soltesz said. She said Fernandes “tries her best to make things understandable, and she’s always really excited to improve”

Fernandes said she wanted her students to know that “undergraduates at Miami can become engaged in research projects right from the first year onwards … [to understand] the excitement of research and how it adds and contributes to the discipline.”



Olivia Palmer: Building robots
and a future for women in science

Olivia Palmer, 16, is an incoming junior in Jericho, Vermont. She is a member of her school’s robotics club. The school’s robotic team works from September to February, building and programming a robot to compete in the FIRST, a youth technology organization, FTC competition.

Palmer jokes that she was “physically dragged” by a friend to the first robotics meeting during her sophomore year, but her interest in science and engineering compelled her to join the club. Her school’s robotic team has only been around for three years and consists of 12 members. Palmer is the only girl on the team. She admits that it was scary to join a team of all boys, but she did not let this stop her from pursuing her interest in robotics. This passion has been fostered by involvement in Rosie’s Girls, a camp focused on giving girls the opportunity to explore math and science fields.

Palmer works in hardware because she enjoys physically building robots, but describes working with the other robotics club members as difficult. “Communication isn’t our strong suit.” She gets frustrated when team members ignore other’s ideas and do their own thing. Despite these difficulties — and the need to take a break to focus on academics — Palmer has carried on. “Once I jumped back in, I found that I really enjoyed it,” she said.

Olivia Palmer and Robotics Club teammates construct a robot. — Contributed photo

This coming school year, Palmer will be serving as the club’s co-leader. She hopes that the members of the club can focus on teamwork and listening to each other’s ideas. Palmer stated that “we need to change the group dynamic to be open and willing to go through new opportunities and experiences.

She also hopes to be on a robotics team in college. She is excited by the prospect of “When you go to college, there’s a lot of different ideas and minds that get thrown into your radar. I think it’s cool to work with different people and see their point of views and how you can approach a problem differently.”


Owen Rice: Giving his extra

Owen Rice is a 17-year-old incoming senior in Toledo, Ohio. For the last year, he has been involved in a non-profit organization called Water for Ishmael. The organization’s goal is to help refugees and immigrants learn English.

Rice started volunteering there once a week after he went to a fundraiser with his parents. “I’ll sit down at a table with two or three students, and we print an article. We’ll just read through it.” Rice says this process can be difficult, since some of the students speak little or no English. “A lot of the students are illiterate. You have to lead by example. If you say something right enough times, they’ll pick it up.”

Water for Ishmael offers three class times throughout the day. One is in the morning for stay at home parents and their children. “The morning schools teaches them cooking, money management, sewing. Just like life skills that they did not have before.”

Owen Rice, Olivia Palmer and Natalie Tuten wait for their family meeting to start during Summer Scholars. — Photo by Connor Murchie

Rice teaches at the night program which has about a dozen students, but the program as a whole sees about 200 students. Each night, he works on reading with one group for an hour and a half then rotates and works with another group. Rice gives up three hours of his night but does so with no hesitation. He is passionate about helping in any way he can. “You should give them your extra. Everyone has something that they can give to someone else.” 


Maggie Walker: Adopt don’t shop

Animal enthusiast Maggie Walker is dedicated to giving to animals in need. The 17-year-old from Mason, Ohio, volunteers for the Cincinnati Lab Rescue and works at Kyle’s Veterinary Hospital. 

Photos help kittens win new homes. — Photo by Maggie Walker

Walker has always had an affinity for animals, and she has paired this love with her photography skills. She has won two Scholastic awards for her photography and uses this skill at the Cincinnati Lab Rescue. “I didn’t have anything else to do with photography, so I figured I might as well do something good with it. She volunteers at the rescue every Saturday for about five hours. “I take photos of the dogs, ’cause if you take good photos of the dogs, then it’s easier for them to get adopted.”

At Lab Rescue, Walker sees a lot of abused dogs. While this can be traumatic and make her question the good of humanity, she says “You look around and see that people are volunteering five hours, every single day. I realized how to see everyone in a better light.” 

Maggie Walker captures a selfie with a dog at the vet. –Photo by Maggie Walker

At Kyle’s Veterinary Hospital, Walker helps in kennels by walking the dogs, feeding them, giving them medicine, etc. Her volunteer work and job have inspired her to pursue zoology as her college major and possibly veterinary school after that.  Originally, she was thinking of pursuing animal activism law, but she has found she prefers a more hands-on experience, as she said “I realized I’d rather make a difference with animals.”

Since beginning her work with animals, Walker has tamed nine stray cats and has adopted two dogs from the Cincinnati Lab Rescue. Walker’s family now consists of 4 dogs, 3 cats, 2 fish, and a talking parrot.



Media Matters: Connecting people with the truth

Through the Media Matters module I was able to get an insight on the world of journalism and the many different careers paths it offers. Journalism is fast-paced, exciting, but challenging field that requires thinking on your feet and meeting tight deadlines.

The many journalists we talked to offered some common advice, such as building connections you can use later on. Regardless of your beat, you must be able to fact check all your sources. It’s also important that you create a conversational tone with the person you’re interviewing to get more open, honest answers.

I also learned how many journalists will read stories from different parts of the United States and see if they can use that idea in the area they report for. They’re able to take a concept someone else has written about and create something that is relevant to their readers. Writing content specific to your audience was also a common thread discussed. Regardless if their audience was very narrow or broad, each journalist has to keep them mind when creating content.

Many of the people who we talked to in the world of news drove home the idea that you can combine something you love with journalism. For example, Miami grad Allison Mitchell has always loved fashion and was able to combine that passion with writing by working for Modern Luxury magazine. Chip Mahaney at WCPO-TV also discussed the importance of writing about what you like, whatever that may be. He told us “If you have a unique passion, blow it up”.

As a whole, I took away that journalism is a field that requires creative minds that can spot a good story and self-discipline to get them out on time. You have to consider in every story which details to add and which to leave out, which images to use, what medium to convey your story, and so on. Journalism is crucial in connecting people and giving us the freedom to write about the truth.

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From left, Morgan Schneider, Megan Salters, Lydia Mandell, Lexi Whitehead, Ilana Mermelstein and Sawyer Muir tour Kings Island during Summer Scholars. — Contributed photo

About the author

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Lydia Mandell holds Zelda as a puppy. — Photo by Julia Mandell

Lydia Mandell, 17, is an incoming senior from Columbus, Ohio. She has a passion for both English and biology and hopes to blend the two by pursuing science journalism. Mandell will be serving as a senior officer of Art Club this upcoming school year, as well as participating in Japanese Club and Young Progressives. Outside of school, she loves spending time with her three dogs: Effie, a Chihuahua, Winnie, a keeshond, and Zelda, a Norwegian elkhound. She also enjoys attending conventions and cosplaying, and she will be doing so at RTX Austin, a massive gaming and internet convention, next month. Her other free-time hobbies include sewing, reading and drawing.