OV’s Enright wins Vt. Brain Bee, places 15th at nationals
BURLINGTON — Nora Enright gives new meaning to being a “brain.”
The Otter Valley Union High School sophomore won the fourth annual Brain Bee at the University of Vermont College of Medicine on Feb. 9. The 15-year-old was one of 30 students from eight Vermont high schools competing in the written, practical and oral examination testing their knowledge of the human brain.
By beating out her mostly older competition, Enright, of Pittsford, won a travel stipend to go to Baltimore and represent Vermont in the National Brain Bee on March 2-4.
At the national competition Enright placed 15th out of 47 contestants.
In the Vermont Brain Bee, Champlain Valley Union High School senior Gabriel Peck Frame earned second place, and John Mlcuch, a senior from Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol, came in third. This year’s Brain Bee also included participants from Rice Memorial High School in Burlington, Vergennes Union High School, Stowe High School, Middlebury Union High School, and Burlington Technical Center.
Many of these schools have Brain Science or Neuroscience clubs that helped students prepare for the bee all year-long. Enright competed last year and came in fifth. This year, Enright and OV senior Courtney Stearns studied with Jean Corbett, whose son John competed in the 2010 Brain Bee for OV.
Enright said she had no plans to win the Brain Bee, she just wanted to do well.
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed when asked if she thought she’d win. “I thought, ‘This’ll be great. I’ll lose in the oral round and go get myself a Shamrock Shake (from McDonald’s) and I’ll be fine.’”
All of the competitors study the same book, “Brain Facts,” and are then tested on their knowledge of the facts in the book. The group is split in two, with half the students going to be tested on “wet samples” of actual brain tissue in the UVM Med School Pathology Department, and the other half taking a written test. The groups then switch and through elimination of low scores, the students are pared down to go on to the oral round. But this year, for the first time, all of the students went on to the oral round. Then with each right answer, the student moves on. The group was pared to eight finalists in the oral round, where students, each with a white board, write their answers to each question on the white board and hold it up.
During the lunch break, Brain Bee attendees listened to a keynote presentation, titled “Adolescents, Impulsivity and Brain Function,” by Alexandra Potter, UVM assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology. Following the Oral Bee Rounds, students heard a panel of UVM neuroscience undergraduate and graduate students discuss their educational and research experiences, as well as future plans.
Among those involved in creating the Brain Bee were Middlebury College psychology professor Mark Stefani, and Vermont Brain Bee coordinator Lisa Bernardin, a traumatic brain injury survivor from Middlebury.
Enright said she got lucky in the oral rounds.
“I was happy because the questions I wasn’t sure about, I didn’t get,” she said.
So, to what does this teenager attribute her Brain Bee success? Sheer curiosity.
“This is something I’m really interested in,” she said of the human brain. “So, it really sticks in my memory, plus the fact that I did it last year and studied with people.”
Enright is a straight-A student at OV with a variety of interests, although she quickly admits that science and math are her favorite subjects. She plays soccer and softball and rock climbs. She also plays a number of instruments, including clarinet, saxophone, cello and piano, and excels on the OV Debate Team.
When asked to name three people she admires most, Enright named her mother, Roberta Enright; Nikla Telsa, inventor of the modern alternating current electrical supply system; and Rosalind Franklin, the British biophysicist known for her research in themolecular structure of DNA.
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