Neuro-Nerd

Brain Exploration Becomes a Serendipitous Journey

Colin HoyColin Hoy '12

By Rob O’Connor '95
Managing Editor

Colin Hoy '12 can sum up his Hendrix experience in one word — serendipity.

A Baton Rouge, La., native, Hoy took Advanced Placement Psychology as a high school student, but he was originally interested in the 3:2 engineering program at Hendrix until Differential Equations homework led him back to psychology and ultimately an interdisciplinary neuroscience major.

Around the same time, the college received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop Crossings, a group of interdisciplinary courses on related themes, one of which was Study of the Mind.

“That was a nice opportunity that just sort of popped up,” he said. “It helped me realize how the courses I wanted to take in different departments actually overlap and complement each other.”

Fortuitously, Hoy’s faculty advisor, psychology professor Dr. Jennifer Peszka, was heavily invested in neuroscience. She teaches Behavioral Neuroscience and is part of the Crossings faculty. She is also part of a group of faculty that developed a new neuroscience minor.

“I was fortunate because her involvement in neuroscience on campus helped guide my interests from early on in my Hendrix career,” he said.

In addition to psychology, Hoy has taken courses in biology, chemistry and philosophy, including Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, Philosophy of the Mind, Philosophy of Psychology, and Philosophy of Science.

“The liberal arts influence is something I really appreciate,” he said. “The Study of the Mind Crossing highlights the interdisciplinary connections, which is exactly what neuroscience is all about. So much plays into it. It’s really built for the Crossings program.”

At the end of his freshman year, Hoy was accepted into the Hendrix-in-Florence study abroad program, which allowed him to fulfill his foreign language requirement during the summer and focus on research and neuroscience.

During his sophomore year, Hendrix biology professor Dr. Rick Murray, a neuroscientist, advertised for volunteer positions in his lab.

“That introduced me to scientific research and taught me some important lab techniques,” he said.

Those skills, Hoy said, were a factor in his acceptance into the Summer Undergraduate Neuroscience (SUN) program at the Louisiana State University Health and Science Center in New Orleans the following summer. Hoy was part of a research team studying treatments for age-related macular degeneration

“I realized I actually loved the day-to-day work involved with doing research, so it turned out to be a valuable experience,” he said.

Already on a roll, Hoy got another lucky break when two new research opportunities opened up during his junior year.

Hoy was part of a small group of Advanced Research students to assist Dr. Peszka in examining the effects of caffeine on sleep, which was “fairly interesting from a student perspective,” he said.

At the same time, the Psychology Department had developed a new “externship” for upper-level psychology students at Hendrix to work with the Neuropsychology Service at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

“It was phenomenal. They have a very student-friendly attitude, and I had access to anything I could want at UAMS, including lectures and discussions with doctors, researchers, and graduate and medical students,” said Hoy, who worked with the Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC). “That was the most valuable experience I’ve had at Hendrix in terms of figuring out my career plans and gaining the skill sets I’ll need as a neuroscientist.”

He enjoyed the experience so much he has stayed on to work on an ongoing research project looking at the cognitive consequences of a treatment for Parkinson’s disease patients called deep brain stimulation (DBS). He anticipates some of his UAMS BIRC research results will soon be published.

Even outside of his interdisciplinary major, Hoy had his hand in bringing together multiple perspectives on the mind. In spring 2010, he received an Odyssey grant to sponsor TEDxHendrixCollege, an independently organized TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design) event.

“I naively thought I’d email a few people and get some snacks or something. It turned out to be a lot more than I bargained for but was probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” said Hoy, who discovered the innovative series as a freshman when he found an iTunes podcast of an international TED event and was “instantly hooked.”

Naturally, Hoy chose “What Can Your Mind Do for You?” as the theme for the first TEDx event.

Hoy’s Odyssey project evolved into TEDrix, a campus group that regularly draws 60-70 students, faculty, and staff to monthly discussions and viewings of free videos from TED.com.

This spring, the group will host another TEDxHendrixCollege event, bringing live and remote speakers to discuss the theme “Us Vs. Them” from a variety of viewpoints, including the environment, politics, religion, and sports.

Last spring, Hoy was one of four Hendrix students selected to receive the Goldwater Scholarship from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, widely considered the country’s top undergraduate science honor.

Last summer, he was selected for a summer research internship with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md. Hoy worked with Dr. Allen Braun using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study language. Braun’s fMRI research explores the theme of spontaneous creation. Hoy assisted Braun on a narrative production study. He analyzed spontaneously created stories and worked on a brain atlas to more accurately depict the neuroanatomical subdivisions of brain regions.

“It was one of the best research experiences of my life ... just hands-down amazing,” he said.

Hoy presented his NIH research this fall at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, which he described as “a monster conference with about 33,000 neuroscientists in a convention center in D.C.”

Hoy began his senior year knowing he would not be applying immediately for graduate school.

“Because neuroscience is very broad, it makes graduate school selection more difficult. You really have to develop your research interests to focus your graduate school selection,” he said. “I know I want to do fMRI research. But fMRI is a method. Now I have to decide on what to study with it ... so I still have some figuring to do.”

In the meantime, he continues to enjoy the Hendrix experience in full. A former wind ensemble and jazz band member, he continues to take private lessons on alto saxophone and enjoys jamming with friends. Among his sax idols are Maceo Parker and Donald Harrison. He also plays on the college’s Ultimate Frisbee club team, having converted from soccer since his freshman year on the men’s soccer team. He hopes Hendrix will compete at this year’s national championships for NCAA Division III schools.

Hoy is currently applying for post-graduate fMRI research positions, including at the National Institutes of Health, and awaiting the results of his Fulbright Scholarship application before he enrolls in a Ph.D. neuroscience program.

Hoy is a fourth-generation Hendrix student. His sister, father, grandfather, great uncle, and great-grandfather are Hendrix alumni.