CCSN has historically played and continues to play a central role in community outreach efforts at Washington University. Community outreach activities are not mandatory for CCSN students, but they are strongly encouraged. CCSN students play a critical role in two major annual events: SciFest and NeuroDay. Each year, the Faculty Representative (Erik Herzog) works with the CCSN Outreach Student Coordinator to recruit and train approximately 8-12 CCSN students to create the Amazing Brain Carnival (ABC). At the ABC, graduate students give hands-on research demonstrations, providing them opportunities to interact with public regarding classic neuroscience phenomena and discoveries, while also describing their own research objectives in a related area. These demonstrations are developed over a 6-month period through workshops and instruction with Washington University neuroscientists and St. Louis Science Center staff, and test screenings with high school students and teachers. The end result is an exhibit, designed like a big-top circus, with stations representing brain regions that the public visits. At each station, the public meets a graduate student who integrates their research into the themes of the ABC (e.g. regionalization of function to brain areas, processes of recovery from brain injury, mechanisms of neural development and plasticity, designs for new brain-computer interfaces, etc.). Students present the ABC at SciFest (in October) and NeuroDay (in March) each year. They contact between 1,500 and 4,500 visitors at each event.
The CCSN Outreach Program is part of a larger Neuroscience Pipeline that includes students studying the brain in high school, college, graduate school, and as postdoctoral fellows. Through near-peer mentoring experiences, CCSN students share their enthusiasm for and expertise in neuroscience with high school students studying for the St. Louis Area Brain Bee and with Synapse, the student group dedicated to neuroscience opportunities for undergraduates. In many ways, presenting neuroscience topics to an audience of non-scientists requires the same skills necessary to discuss research with scientists from different disciplines. Thus community outreach efforts are synergistic with other components of the CCSN pathway.