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Linking Neuroscience to the Neighborhood

Hala Haddad, born in California to Jordanian parents, spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. During her first year in high school, the family settled in upstate New York.

Haddad’s academic interest in biomedical research and personal preference for urban living made her college choice an easy one. She was impressed by Hunter’s undergraduate nursing program, and drawn to the diversity of the student body and surrounding city.

Once on campus, she found courses in introductory psychology and brain and behavior so fascinating that she shifted her career focus from nursing to neuroscience research. In her junior year, she gained acceptance to Blue Print for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity in Undergraduate Research Education Experiences (BP-ENDURE), a two-year NIH-funded intensive program for neuroscience students from underrepresented groups. Through BP-ENDURE, she gained extensive laboratory training, one-to-one mentoring and other vital support – all preparing her for admission to the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Brown University.

As a first year BP-ENDURE Scholar, Haddad worked in Peter Serrano’s psychology lab with animal behaviorist Amber Alliger, examining the effects of enriched environments on learning and memory. Embarking on her senior year, she joined the lab of James Salzer at NYU Langone Medical Center, where she studied the relationship between immune cells and neural stem cells in the context of multiple sclerosis.

In 2015, BP-ENDURE sponsored her participation in a summer internship in Roger Colbran’s lab at Vanderbilt University, where she conducted research on the cellular basis of neurological conditions such as autism-spectrum disorders and Parkinson’s disease. The following summer she worked in the laboratories of Kristi Wharton and Diane Lipscombe at Brown University, researching how synaptic transmission from the brain to muscles affects motor behavior in healthy fruit flies and models of ALS. With both internships came the opportunity to present her research at national conferences like the Society for Neuroscience Annual Convention.

Beyond the sciences, Haddad minored in music history and delighted in the interdisciplinary curriculum of the Thomas Hunter Honors Program; a couple of her favorite courses were in Indian thought and human rights. She also served as president of the campus chapter of the community-service group Circle K International, which mobilizes students to participate in local outreach efforts by the Multiple Sclerosis Society and March of Dimes.

Today, preparing to begin doctoral studies at Brown University, Haddad sees her future not only in research and college teaching, but also in an activism that calls for regular back-and-forth communication between scientists and the general public.

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