Behavioral Neuroscience Program awards pair of summer research grants to WWU undergrads

The Behavioral Neuroscience Program is pleased to announce the 2023 recipients of the BNS Program Undergraduate Summer Research Award and the Dr. David Goldman and Dr. Linda Blackwell Undergraduate Summer Research Award. Both research awards aim to increase opportunities in Behavioral Neuroscience research for individuals who are typically underrepresented in the field. The awards will be given annually to a Behavioral Neuroscience undergraduate with demonstrated interest in behavioral neuroscience research, enthusiasm for a graduate degree or health professional program, and has financial need.

BNS Program Undergraduate Summer Research Award

This year’s BNS Program Summer Undergraduate Research Award recipient is Lauren Gilman (she/her), who works in the lab of Josh Kaplan, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. Gilman wants to become an osteopathic psychiatrist after graduation and this summer will research cannabis’ effects on autism spectrum disorder.

“I’m thrilled that Lauren will have the opportunity to explore her research interests this summer, and I’m looking forward to supporting her scientific growth as she learns new molecular approaches that will be applied to her research into cannabis’ effects in autism spectrum disorder," said Kaplan. "Lauren will now be able to apply her holistic approach to medicine and research by studying the effect of cannabis on the gut-brain axis, neuroinflammation, and behavior using molecular and mass spectrometry approaches. These are hot areas of research and I’m excited for Lauren to lead our lab in this new direction."

Gilman was grateful for the research award and excited to get to work this summer.

"I am grateful for this award and honored to be a presence for other queer women in STEM. My time at Western has given me immense opportunities for growth and leadership. To name a few, I participated in the psychiatry internship, as the NeRDS publicity officer, as the waterski team travel coordinator, and as a volunteer in Dr. Kaplan's cannabis lab," Gilman said. "I hope my research on the microbiome and inflammation in autism spectrum disorder increases our understanding of CBD and paves the way for other safe, novel treatments."

"In the future, I hope to work as an osteopathic psychiatrist, providing a holistic approach to healing. Admittedly, many psychiatric disorders have a biological basis and require pharmacological intervention to improve symptoms; however, I plan to approach patients as people first, not as an array of dysfunctional circuits and chemicals. Environment, social connections, and underlying disease impact the mind’s state just as much as neurotransmitters and deserve equal attention," she said.

Aicha Tokar Falatah, left, and Lauren Gilman, right, are the winners of two Behavioral Neuroscience Program summer research awards

Dr. David Goldman and Dr. Linda Blackwell Undergraduate Summer Research Award

This year’s Dr. David Goldman and Dr. Linda Blackwell Undergraduate Summer Research Award recipient is Aicha Tokar Falatah (she/her), who is a member of Jacqueline Rose’s lab. Rose is a  professor in the Department of Psychology. After completing her undergraduate degree, Falatah wants to pursue a graduate program with a focus on neurodegenerative diseases and their heritability.

“I am so excited that Aicha will be afforded the opportunity to pursue her research interest in investigating the transgenerational effects of stress. Aicha will use confocal imaging to measure stress markers expressed in intact animals and observe how expression of these markers is altered across multiple generations in the nematode, C. elegans," said Rose. "As well, Aicha will quantify differences in basic organismal behavior as well as in learning and memory resulting from chronic stress events experienced by previous generations. Aicha’s research will use sophisticated techniques to expand what is known about behavioral and learning determinants and elucidate mechanisms of how intergenerational trauma is transmitted.” 

Falatah thanked the award sponsors and talked about the summer ahead.

“I am deeply grateful to Dr. David Goldman and Dr. Linda Blackwell for this opportunity. I hope to pursue a M.D./Ph.D. dual degree after graduating and plan on spending this summer learning about the generational effects of stress on learning and memory. I aim to explore the possibility of learning deficits as a result of prenatal stress," said Falatah. "I will utilize my skills from my work in Dr. Rose’s lab and explore both the behavioral and cellular effects of transgenerational in-utero stress in a C.elegans model. In addition to majoring in BNS, I’m working toward a minor in Computer science. I strive to use my perspective as an immigrant to help others who might be misunderstood or forgotten in the medical and neuroscience field.” 

The Behavioral Neuroscience Program, housed within the WWU Psychology Department, administers a Bachelor of Science major in Behavioral Neuroscience (BNS). The mission of the program is to support education, research, and service in Behavioral Neuroscience at Western Washington University. In addition to coursework, BNS majors are encouraged to collaborate with faculty members on original research relevant to BNS.