John Brent IV – Knox College

How do you define the benefits of a liberal arts education?

As part of a liberal arts college, I not only have the freedom to explore new studies, but I have also found great benefit in the variety of educational opportunities and expertise in disciplines that interest me, such as psychology, neuroscience and biology. My current research on campus focuses on behavioral pharmacology, experimental psychology, and cognitive psychology.

What are your three main strengths? Tell me a story that includes them.

My three main strengths are organization, being comfortable with mistakes and motivation. When I joined the Knox Laboratory on Cognition and Aging (KCAL) working with Patricia Xi, assistant professor of psychology, I had never done research before. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new experience, but I relied on three important values. First, everyone makes mistakes at first to learn. Second, don’t cut corners, even if it takes time or is difficult. Third, commit to learning the concepts and context behind why we are asking the research questions. It’s all tied together by the organization as it’s also important to stay on top of my class work and my well-being.

What other Knox professors or faculties have helped guide you?

For one of my research projects, I am working with Heather Hoffman, Robert M. & Katherine Arnold Seeley Distinguished Professor and Chair of Psychology, helping her with the administrative aspect of her independent study. She is my professor mentor for my senior research, and I was a teaching assistant for her in the fall. I like being able to ask him questions that most people don’t have the answer to.

I really appreciate Mary Crawford, Associate Dean of the College and Philip Sidney Post Professor of Chemistry. I was his assistant several times. I will always look back and appreciate all the conversations and insights she gave me.

Esther Penik, associate professor of biology and chair of neuroscience, has been my advisor since the end of second year when I officially declared my major in neuroscience. She was a go-to in planning my academic journey, encouraging me to explore my interests and take courses outside of the Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center (SMC). I am grateful for the encouragement to do something outside of my comfort zone, even though I still spend a lot of time at SMC.

What classes have you taken outside of your comfort zone?

In my first and second years, I took the MUS 100 Music Reading and Skills course with Pierce Gradone, assistant music teacher, which was fun. ART 119 Digital Photography 1 was super cool. I have vivid memories of walking around campus an hour a week with my freshman roommate taking pictures for homework. I took pictures of him, some of which I heard are still used as examples in the class. The Spanish course I took was the biggest challenge. I had to make a lot of effort to speak Spanish when the opportunities presented themselves. I think these challenges apply more generally to other facets of my life that are complicated and confusing. In the end, it’s more important to put in the effort.

What is most important to you on the Knox campus?

There are a lot of really unique and very experienced people here. Particularly students, as many come from such diverse and unique backgrounds. Something 19th President Thersea Amott said at my next meeting is, “You will always learn the most from those who are least like you. Get out there, talk to people you wouldn’t think you were talking to. It will allow you to fall in and embrace the diversity and opportunity that Knox has to offer.

John Brent IV will participate in the University of Minnesota Medical School Department of Neuroscience post-baccalaureate program in the Minnesota Inclusive Neuroscience Development Scholars (MINDS) program doing neuroscience research and working with experts in the domain. He wants to work in neuropharmacology and study how different therapeutic drugs can be used to treat neurological diseases and disorders.

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