A gift honoring mothers and teachers assists university students who are advancing neurotechnology

Wayne Gillam

When Joseph and Anusha Fernando were looking for a meaningful way to honor both of their mothers, who were teachers, they thought of the CNT because of its interdisciplinary educational environment and impact on the future.

Joseph Fernando has been actively involved with students at the Center for Neurotechnology (CNT) for several years. Fernando, a Principal Architect at arm, a CNT industry affiliate, has participated in the center’s industry seminars for students and served as a consultant and judge at classes and events such as Neural Engineering Tech Studio and the CNT Hackathon. So, the CNT seemed like a natural fit when he and his wife, Anusha, an actuary for the health care company Molina, thought about where they could give that would both honor family members and create a positive impact for students.

“Both my mother and my wife’s mother were teachers. They spent most of their lives not only educating us, but also their students, helping them grow in their careers and build up their lives,” Fernando said. “Even today, when we go to different cities, we meet students they have taught. That is extremely rewarding. Unfortunately, both of our mothers passed away years ago.”

Together, the Fernandos created a philanthropic fund in loving memory of their mothers. Then, with help from the CNT, they committed some money from the fund toward establishing the “CNT Best Paper Award for Neurotechnology Advancement,” a $1,000 award for a noteworthy research paper written by a CNT-affiliated undergraduate or graduate student. This annual award begins in 2020, and it recognizes and promotes a technical paper that makes identifiable contributions in neurotechnology or human-machine interaction.

Making a difference at the intersection of technology and health care

Prior to establishing their fund and the CNT award, the Fernandos supported individual students by doing things such as buying textbooks and helping with tuition. Although these efforts made a difference for students, the Fernandos began to realize that they could have greater impact if they were working with an institution that could facilitate longer-term continuity. The CNT’s collaborative nature was part of why they decided to give to the center.

“What I found is that the CNT was able to bring electrical engineering, neuroscience, computer science, computer engineering and health care groups all together in an interdisciplinary way to move forward on a particular set of objectives,” Fernando said. “It is extremely refreshing to see professors and students coming together, collaborating, coordinating and moving toward a common goal. That’s very nice to see and participate in.”

Another reason the Fernandos gave to support students at the CNT was because the center’s work at the intersection of technology and health care aligned well with their own interests.

“The brain is the next frontier. Understanding how the brain works and helping people overcome neurological ailments is the next phase of innovation,” Fernando said. “Also, Anusha and I are thinking about eldercare and how cognitive robotics could make life easier for an aging population. In regard to that, we are interested in how you could make devices more intelligent and human interaction with devices a lot more intuitive.”

Impact on students and neurotechnology development

In addition to providing recognition for a student’s research, the award established by the Fernandos and the CNT might be the extra boost a student needs to bring their work before a larger audience. A student’s paper can be published by a respected journal and accepted for presentation at a highly-regarded international conference, but that doesn’t guarantee the student will have funds needed for travel. The financial aspect of the award could help a student attend a conference to present their research, positively impacting not only the student but neurotechnology development itself.

“When students present at a conference, it gets their research results out there, so it influences other people’s research,” said the CNT’s Director of Industry Relations and Innovation, Scott Ransom, who worked with the Fernandos to establish the award. “Experts in the field see what other experts in the field are discovering, and that infuses their own research with new perspectives, oftentimes leading to new collaborations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

The Fernandos hope to expand this philanthropic effort in the future, offering more awards to more students. The current award is fulfilling their giving goals by both recognizing and honoring the support their mothers gave to students over the years, as well as the profound contribution all mothers make to their children’s development throughout a lifetime.

“That’s why we subtitled our fund ‘Memory of our Moms,’” Fernando said. “It’s in memory of not only our moms, but all the mothers in the world who helped get us where we are today.”

Learn more about the CNT Best Paper Award for Neurotechnology Advancement on our website. For information about giving to the center, visit our giving page or contact the CNT’s Associate Director of Advancement, Rebecca Kuenzel Shirley.