Chinmayi Balusu, a 19-year-old researcher, community leader, youth science communicator, and social entrepreneur was recently named a 2022 Global Teen Leader by the We Are Family Foundation’s Three Dot Dash program.
Balusu was one of 34 teens out of hundreds of international applicants for their “social good innovations, organizations, and projects and promise for a more just, equitable and peaceful future.”
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Balusu’s family is originally from Andhra Pradesh, though she was raised in Folsom, California. She moved to New York in 2019 to study at Columbia University. Her academic interests lie in the medical humanities, traumatic brain injury, science communication, and neuroepidemiology, among others.
“My passion for growing STEM education efforts stemmed from an encounter with a brain anatomy model at a middle-school science fair,” she said. “I remember feeling an incredible sense of awe at how complex the brain was under the surface, and this inspired me to pursue further learning opportunities. Even though I came across my interest in the brain early on, the next steps involved quite a bit of trial and error and dead ends. Many of the learning resources I came across were specific to university students and experts. This meant that, for the most part, I was on a solo journey, pursuing self-learning on platforms like Coursera.”
At Columbia, Balusu strove to learn more about neuroscience outside the STEM bubble, exploring cutting-edge neurotechnology startups and inspiring neuro artworks. Her Indian American identity has helped her form a bridge between the two distinct yet interconnected worlds.
“As a U.S. citizen and native English-speaking individual, I acknowledge that my journey here in the Western education system has introduced me to a wide range of opportunities in neuroscience and higher education that my peers from around the world may not have equal access to, whether because of geographic, financial, or linguistic restrictions,” she said. “I utilize this perspective in my work through finding ways to connect with resources and collaborators at the local level outside of the United States, participating in multilingual and cross-cultural science outreach efforts, and being an active listener.”
For example, over the past year, Balusu has worked on two academic explorations: understanding barriers in expanding multilingual Indian science communication efforts (especially during public health crises like the current pandemic) as well as understanding the burden of healthcare-associated infections on the Indian medical system.
It is still uncommon for neuroscience-related courses to be formally offered at public high schools (especially outside of North America and Europe). The dearth of neuroscience education early on calls for comprehensive, accessible resources outside of the classroom. In 2019, Balusu founded Simply Neuroscience, a non-profit organization, to address these gaps and strengthen the early neuroscience education pipeline. Her recognition as a 2022 Global Teen Leader, she admits, can help her build her skills as a changemaker in the upcoming summer and to understand how to grow initiatives that work towards a more equitable and peaceful future.
Simply Neuroscience empowers students through neuroscience and psychology education, outreach, and awareness initiatives.
“We work to increase early and equitable access to learning about the brain by connecting over 25,000 students from 119 countries with free online resources, opportunities, events, and mentorship,” Balusu said. “Our motto is that we are pursuing the brain and unlocking the future, one neuron at a time.”
She is inspired by the work of her mentors and colleagues and has found community through initiatives such as SAPNA (South Asian Psychology and Neuroscience Association). Looking ahead, she and her team plan to expand local outreach efforts by connecting with grassroots community initiatives and supporting youth ambassadors to initiate change within their school and university communities.
Balusu hopes to go to medical school and build a career based both in India and the U.S. It will provide her with the flexibility to engage with science and well-being from different academic and interpersonal perspectives.
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