Team of Experts Advocates for BrainWise Outreach Efforts
The BrainWise Program continues to reach out to a growing number of public and private entities, helping individuals master the decision making process and learn to control impulsive behaviors. Driving the growth of the BrainWise Program is a research team comprised of master BrainWise instructors, public health professionals, and academicians with expertise on brain functions and neurobiology. BrainWise Program founder Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry, PhD, RN, calls the diverse group of distinguished professionals “a committed and exceptional team. They have donated their time and expertise to help BrainWise gain recognition and reach more people.” Below are some of the BrainWise team members:
Matt Sena, MS
is a master BrainWise Instructor in Fairbanks, Alaska, using the program in his work with at-risk families and adolescents. Sena was the Fatherhood Program manager for Chugachmiut Inc., in Anchorage, AK. where he taught BrainWise to adolescents and families beginning in 1998. For the last six years, he also has trained and supported Alaska Native leaders to use the 10 Wise Ways to help youth and families living in rural tribal villages make good decisions. Sena is involved with the Fatherhood and Families coalition, a consortium of agencies serving youth and young families. In addition to his teaching and counseling with Chugachmiut, he is a doctoral candidate in clinical community psychology at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, where he is completing his thesis on the use of educational technology in the delivery of the BrainWise Program. A gifted teacher and grant writer, Sena gives generously of his time and talent to locate and help write proposals to fund BrainWise projects and research. When asked why he is a supporter of the BrainWise Program Sena says, “I believe in BrainWise because I have benefited from using the 10 Wise Ways in my life. When I began teaching BrainWise, I immediately realized the value it created in students based on their engagement and feedback. I always look forward to leading groups because each session is a rich experience lending to new strengths.”
Marilyn Welsh, PhD
is a professor of education and psychology at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and a recognized national expert on measuring the brain’s executive functions. She is co-author, with Dr. Barry, of the chapter on BrainWise in the book by D. Romer and E. Walker called “Adolescent Psychopathology and the Developing Brain: Integrating Brain and Prevention Science.” Dr. Welsh currently conducts research on outcomes of students who receive text reminders on their cell phones to “Be BrainWise.” She and her graduate students have devoted countless hours to evaluating BrainWise outcomes, and have presented papers and poster sessions at psychology conferences nationwide. Dr. Welsh continues to dedicate her time and expertise to BrainWise because, as she explains, “After more than 25 years of conducting research on executive functions, I was so impressed when I read Dr. Gorman Barry’s BrainWise curriculum. Here was a program that took the theoretical concepts of executive processes…and put them into a language that everyone can understand, relate to, and use in their daily lives. From the youngest child who invariably has difficulty controlling emotions and planning ahead, to the at-risk teenager, who may be lacking the role models and practice needed to optimize these skills, BrainWise empowers them to engage their ‘Wizard Brain’ to more effectively deal with problems that confront them in our increasingly complex world.”
Marry Cazzell, PhD, RN
a professor for the School of Nursing at the University of Texas at Arlington, joined the BrainWise team in 2009. With her nursing background and expertise in neurobiology and adolescent risk behavior, Dr. Cazzell adds a cutting-edge evaluation component to BrainWise Program research projects. According to Cazzell, “I am a BrainWise advocate because BrainWise addresses the neurobiological basis of decision making and that has been the focus of my research on adolescents. BrainWise offers 10 excellent modules that incrementally teach how to make better decisions, which will result in less impulsivity, better emotional regulation, better working memory for difficult situations, and increased ability to inhibit unhealthy responses.” Cazzell’s expertise regarding neuroscience research on the brain’s plasticity will help the team better measure the impact of behavioral interventions on specific targets and processes. Her contributions to federal grant applications have increased funding opportunities to evaluate and expand BrainWise.
Xiaoliang Li, MD
a founder of Pioneers in Health NPO, is a professor at Kunming Medical College, and a master BrainWise instructor. One of eight women selected as a fellow by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to tour the U.S., Dr. Li observed a BrainWise class at Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver. She immediately saw how the 10 Wise Ways could be taught to Chinese youth and adults in cities and rural areas, to people who were victims of sex traffickers, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, drug abuse, and other public health problems. With funding from the Save the Children Foundation-UK, Dr. Li translated the BrainWise curriculum into Chinese and successfully field-tested the program in urban and rural areas. She continues to work with the BrainWise team to find a cross-cultural tool, such as brain-imaging, to measure decision-making outcomes.
Rebecca Persing, DNP, RN
is a Senior Administrator at the Jefferson County Public Health Nursing and Human Services Collaboration, under the Jefferson County Department of Public Health and Environment. Persing was looking for an evidence-based program nurses could use to help TANF and child welfare families make good health decisions and found BrainWise addressed all her desired criteria. Public Health nurses are using the curriculum as the foundation for their family interventions, including home visits and community workshops. The nurses praise the program’s ease-of-use, observable results, and applicability to all problems, across cultures and with all ages. Persing is collecting pre- and post data, and helps write grants for the program. She promotes BrainWise in many ways, including nominating Dr. Barry for Jefferson County Public Health’s 2009 Public Health Champion of the Year award. According to Persing, “BrainWise has enabled our Human Services clients to have both the belief and the skills they need to overcome the patterns of family functioning and environmental factors that led them to involvement with Human Services.” As the primary nursing intervention, BrainWise gives nurses tools to teach clients skills that will help them make better choices and decisions. Persing says the program “allows nurses to address multiple problems with clients of all ages simultaneously and provides a common language.” She notes that, “Clients readily relate to the curriculum’s lessons on the brain and appreciate its non-judgmental approach to help them overcome barriers to being self-sufficient.”
Dell Brooks, MA
is a master BrainWise instructor and teacher with Denver Public Schools (DPS) and recipient of the 2010 Jared Polis Foundation Teacher Recognition Award for his work with BrainWise. Brooks taught BrainWise for four years at Colorado High School Charter (CHSC), an alternative DPS high school for students who have had difficulty succeeding in a traditional education system. Currently, he is working with Dr. Barry in refining a new BrainWise online course he piloted with students at CHSC, using a “blended learning” approach that supplements face-to-face teaching with an online educational package. When asked for a teacher’s perspective on the BrainWise program, Brooks says, “BrainWise gives me tools to teach these young people about the brain, helping them learn skills to stop and take responsibility for their behaviors. The concepts in BrainWise need to be practiced by everyone, and the program’s 10 Wise Ways should become the foundation for teaching and learning critical thinking skills.” Brooks and his students at CHSC participated in a study conducted by Dr. Welsh on changes in executive functions following the BrainWise course and reinforcement with text message reminders for students to stop and think and “Be BrainWise.”
Although they come from diverse backgrounds and bring unique experience to the team, these champions of BrainWise all share a common passion.
Each of the team members is committed to helping people learn to override impulse and emotion by creating new skills to respond thoughtfully to the many choices and behaviors that guide their lives. From rural tribal villages in Alaska, to high school students in Denver, to victims of sex traffickers in China, BrainWise thinking skills are being field tested, taught, texted and integrated interactively online. Research on the outcomes of this education is being measured, evaluated and shared, and the BrainWise program is continuing to gain momentum throughout Colorado, the nation, and the world. According to Dr. Barry, “nobody else provides this level of experience, or the complexity of measurement and assessment that we do.” Driven by a firm belief in the importance of the BrainWise message, this small team of experts is making significant strides in teaching people how to “Be BrainWise.”