Arielle Keller ’16
Arielle Keller ’16

A Newly Passionate Neuroscience Scholar, Ready to Take on a Killer

In high school, Arielle Keller ’16 loved English and hated science. But the summer before she came to Brandeis, something changed as she worked her way through a neuroscience shelf in an MIT library.

“The neuroscience books I read that summer opened my eyes to the idea that the field was not just about how an organ works but what makes us human,” Keller says. “The number of open questions in neuroscience really excited me, and I wanted to be a part of those discoveries.”

Since joining the laboratory of Robert Sekuler, professor of neuroscience and the Louis and Frances Salvage Professor of Psychology, as a freshman, Keller — the 2014-15 Brandeis National Committee Sustaining the Mind Scholar — has been immersed in research.

“Dr. Sekuler really challenges me,” she says. “From the moment I set foot in his lab and asked whether I could work there, he’s helped me learn more and be independent. He gave me the responsibility of designing my own experiment, which a lot of undergrads never get to do.”

And the mentor is very impressed with his mentee. “Arielle brings a rare combination of infectious enthusiasm, keen intelligence and amazing creativity to every task that she takes on,” Sekuler says. “Despite a challenging schedule of course and laboratory work, she amazes everyone who knows her, finding time and energy to contribute to the Brandeis community.”

Keller’s research projects explore how the brain acts when splitting its attention between visual and auditory stimuli. Her work is like something straight out of a science-fiction movie; she places more than 100 electrodes on her subjects’ scalps and measures their brain’s responses to visual and auditory “oddballs” — a red dot or an unusually high-pitched tone, for instance. Keller explains, “It’s important to understand how the brain pays attention to different types of stimuli. If varied stimuli affect perception, then maybe they affect learning and memory, too.”

In true Brandeis fashion, Keller established Students to End Alzheimer’s Disease (SEAD) in February. The group works to encourage conversation and provide an outlet for students to share their experiences, raise money and stay abreast of current research.

“Students have come and asked me, ‘Why haven’t we done this yet?’” Keller says. “And professors in the neuroscience and psychology departments want to come to events, volunteer and give guest lectures.” In April, SEAD will host its first Alzheimer’s Awareness Week; group members plan to turn the Brandeis campus purple, the movement’s official color.

Keller, who is majoring in neuroscience and psychology, plans to go on for an advanced degree and become a professor. She says, “I am thankful for the Sustaining the Mind scholarship, because it allows me to attend a school with so many opportunities to learn and practice skills, which will someday allow me to give back and help others through research.”

The daughter of two alumni (Paul and Jill, both ’87, P’16), Keller has enjoyed finding her own niche at Brandeis. “There is actually a spot on campus that I can point to, where my parents met, lived and got married,” she says. “I never intended to do exactly what they did, but Brandeis had everything I was looking for. As soon as I came here, I just loved it.”

— Kerri Farrell

Longtime Fundraiser Writes a Happy Ending

The Corpus Christi chapter’s 50th and final Brandeis National Committee book sale in March served as an opportunity for members to reflect with pride on an annual event that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Brandeis and helped promote literacy in the south Texas city.

As they have for a half-century, the chapter’s 25 members met weekly throughout the year to accept donated books. Books not in good enough condition for sale were donated to local nursing homes and jails. BNC members worked for two days to set up the sale at a local mall and then staffed the six-day event.

“The book sale has always been a very important part of our efforts to raise money for the Brandeis libraries,” says Elizabeth Susser, one of the chapter leaders. “And it was also a way for us to support Corpus Christi by promoting literacy. If you have good books at a good price, people will read more.”

During the annual sale’s heyday, hundreds of people would stop by daily to browse and purchase books from the donated collection. Upwards of $20,000 would be secured each year to support the Brandeis libraries.

Although the final sale marked the passing of an era, a memorable moment of levity occurred. One prospective attendee, confused by a public-service announcement that he thought had promised appearances by Shakespeare, Maya Angelou and Dr. Seuss (in fact, it simply announced that books by these authors would be for sale), called BNC with a question.

“He wanted to know when Dr. Seuss would be at the book sale because he reads his grandniece Dr. Seuss’ books, and he knew she she would love to hear him read them himself,” Susser says with a laugh.

New Board Members Announced

Eight Brandeis National Committee members will join the organization’s governing board in June, National President Barbara Sander announced.

“We are excited to welcome these women and men to BNC’s National Executive Committee (NEC),” Sander says. “I look forward to working closely with them as we work to enhance our relationship with the university and expand opportunities for our 25,000 members around the country.”

Current NEC members Madalyn Friedberg (Gotham and Central Westchester chapters) and Judith Levine (Phoenix) become vice presidents, Friedberg in charge of fundraising and Levine the head of membership.

The new NEC members include Alexis Magid, P’15 (Boston), vice president of learning opportunities; Sue Karp (Phoenix), goals and awards chair; Ronnie Gerstein (Wellworth); Nancy Sacks-Goldstein (Phoenix); Ruth Bender (Boston); Harriet Machlis (Gotham); Ronald Levy (Boston); and Victor Ney ’81, P’11 (at large).

Additionally, a total of 21 BNC chapter leaders will visit campus in early June for leadership training. They will meet faculty and students, attend workshops, tour campus and attend Alumni College.

‘Sustaining’ Fundraiser in Boca Raton

Dozens of Brandeis National Committee members gathered for a Sustaining the Mind campaign fundraiser, co-chaired by Dena Robbins, a Brandeis fellow, and Harriet Shapiro, P’77. Mitchell Robbins hosted the luncheon at his Wyndham Hotel in Boca Raton, Fla. Barbara Brilliant provided the entertainment.