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Engaging Professor

USC Dornsife’s Mary Helen Immordino-Yang is awarded for her success in engaging with the wider community on the issues and importance of neuroscience.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of USC Dornsife emphasized the importance of getting the public interested in the sciences: "We do this work ultimately so that it can benefit society." Photo by Dietmar Quistorf.
Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of USC Dornsife emphasized the importance of getting the public interested in the sciences: "We do this work ultimately so that it can benefit society." Photo by Dietmar Quistorf.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of USC Dornsife’ Brain and Creativity Institute has received the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Early Career Award for Public Engagement With Science and Technology.

An assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife with a joint appointment at the USC Rossier School of Education, Immordino-Yang’s research focuses on the neuroscience of social emotion, self-awareness and culture. She is dedicated to encouraging the education community and the general public to think about and understand neuroscience, and to using neuroscience research to better society.

Immordino-Yang said she was grateful that AAAS promotes the visibility and integrity of science and for its focus on scientific education.

“Science is mainly funded by the public, and we do this work ultimately so that it can benefit society,” Immordino-Yang said. “For me, engaging teachers and parents in thinking about affective and social brain development serves a double purpose: I have the opportunity to think together with educators about how the scientific findings can be used to innovate in schools. And interacting with practitioners’ practical perspectives often pushes me to think about what research is still needed, where scientific theories lose explanatory power and the implications for my future work.”

Immordino-Yang has authored numerous essays for teachers explaining findings from her research. Her essays have been disseminated to K-12 schools worldwide. She also gives monthly talks to teachers, parents, administrators and superintendents. Since 2006, she has taught an annual four-day residential course for teachers on neuroscience.

The course, which will be hosted in Miami this year, informs teachers about neuroscientific research and helps K-12 teachers develop classroom curriculum. She also helped develop an online master’s-level course for educators based on her workshops, funded by the Annenberg Learner Foundation, which was used by more than 17,000 individuals around the world in 2012, its first year.

Immordino-Yang makes it a priority to reach out to the public. In October, for example, she delivered the Ellbogen Symposium keynote speech at the University of Wyoming, delivered lectures and taught classes for pre-service teachers, and met with state lawmakers.

In addition, she spoke at a public Montessori preschool, taught a sixth grade science class and gave a public television interview on how questions and issues in neuroscience and education can inform one another.

Immordino-Yang is passionate about getting K-12 students interested in the neuroscience of social emotion. She has taught classes on the topic at several grade levels and has invited classes from urban schools to her lab to observe neuroimaging. Among other outreach efforts, each summer, Immordino-Yang hosts three local high school students from among the least advantaged schools in the city for internships.

A member of the USC Dornsife Neuroscience Graduate Program faculty, she also leads a $600,000 National Science Foundation Career-funded study involving the influence of community violence on brain and social growth. Focusing on three Los Angeles high schools, she studies the ways in which social emotions, self-identity and inspiration about one’s future develop neurobiologically and psychosocially among adolescents, and the role of culture in fostering health and resilience.

She will accept the AAAS award at the association’s annual meeting in Chicago on Feb. 14.

The AAAS seeks to “advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” Its goals include enhancing communication among scientists, engineers and the public, promoting and defending the integrity of science and its use, and fostering education in science and technology.