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The Cognitive Science Student Association (CSSA) held an inaugural event on November 20th, 2013. The CSSA will provide undergraduate students with a professional organization that promotes intellectual and professional activities pertinent to the progression toward obtaining careers in cognitive science. Almost 40 undergraduates attended, along with some faculty and graduate students.

At the event, Dr. David Noelle, cognitive science faculty, gave a talk entitled “Choosing to Kill: Free Will and the Criminal Brain”. Following the talk, graduate students Drew Abney and David Vinson (Undergraduate Event Coordinators), along with founding faculty member Dr. Teenie Matlock, chatted with undergraduate majors and minors, to discuss goals and future activities. When asked about the purpose of the CSSA, Abney and Vinson shared some general thoughts:

The purpose of CSSA is to bring students interested in Cognitive Science together, connecting their interests with interests of current researchers. Our vision for the future of the CSSA is the development of a culture for academic stimulation that revolves around a social group of motivated undergraduate students. One purpose for the CSSA is to afford undergraduates the opportunity to take advantage of research opportunities on the UCM campus. Additionally, we would like the CSSA to function as a social hub for undergraduate students majoring/minoring in Cognitive Science at UCM. Many undergraduates have self-reported an interest in applying to graduate programs. Providing them with accurate expectations and assistance is not only a goal but a priority.

When asked about what the CSSA’s activities could do for undergraduate research and educational experience at UC Merced, COGS major Lilly Rigoli noted:

Through CSSA, faculty and graduate students have the opportunity to share their research interests with undergrads in a more personable setting, and undergrads have the opportunity to ask any questions they have and even seek involvement in research (along with gaining an understanding of what involvement in research really entails). CSSA can also provide a place for COGS undergrads to get to know each other and discuss ideas and perhaps even begin collaborative projects.

CogSci senior J.P. Gonzales noted that this could help create connections with other campuses:

The possibilities of working with other CSSA groups in California (UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD) are endless. A California CSSA Conference, bringing together undergrads, graduate students and faculty from UCs all over state, is one of countless awesome projects we could work on together!

As an example of an exciting event, J.P. also cited Dr. Noelle’s great talk as exemplary of UC Merced CogSci research:

Dr. Noelle’s talk on the Neuroscience of Free Will and Violence is exactly the kind of awesome research I would like to see the next generation of Cog Sci students engaged in. His talk was intellectually rigorous, backed-up by cutting-edge empirical research, and was framed in the context of addressing a real-world problem, reform of the criminal justice system. I’d like UC Merced’s CSSA group to be an incubator for ground-breaking research like this.

Graduate students Drew Abney and Dave Vinson, assisting with CSSA and this event, noted that the undergraduate majors and minors were eager to get going and build the association:

The students were very interested in how being a member of the CSSA would benefit their educational experience at UCM. Many mentioned a desire for learning more about local research projects here at UCM and also global topics that span the field of Cognitive Science. It is clear UCM undergraduate students are fired up and motivated and we are happy to now cultivate an organization for their current interests and future successes.