Michelle Ruhigisha

Michelle Ruhigisha

Teen focuses on brain power

Michelle Ruhigisha, a Grade 10 Ecole Victor-Brodeur student, placed 12 of 15 at the CIHR Canadian National Brain Bee in Ontario Saturday

A local brain whiz finished strong at a national competition all about the human brain at McMaster University over the weekend.

Michelle Ruhigisha, a Grade 10 Ecole Victor-Brodeur student, placed 12 of 15 at the CIHR Canadian National Brain Bee in Hamilton, Ont. on Saturday.

“It was a great experience,” said Ruhigisha, 16.

The competition is as literal as it gets: a competition around participants’ knowledge of the human brain. It was made of three parts: the neuroanatomy bell-ringer, where they were asked to identify different parts of the brain and its function; in the second part, they had to diagnose a mock patient; and the third was an oral exam.

Though she did well in the first two challenges, Ruhigisha admitted it was the oral exam that was the most challenging.

“I think I could have done better at that part,” she said. “They were multiple choice. They weren’t hard, but you had to pay attention to what the person was saying to understand the question.”

Ayesha Khan, the competition organizer and assistant professor at the university, said Ruhigisha took a very collaborative approach with her fellow competitors, something they don’t normally see during the competition.

“When they were studying for the competition, they were all in a group. She gelled and meshed very well with them,” said Khan. “She really assisted with making the whole experience, not only for herself but also the other competitors, very collaborative and that’s nice to see for us.”

This was Ruhigisha’s first appearance at the brain bee nationals.

“I think it was the whole aspect of trying something new and the science,” she said, admitting that she didn’t know much about the brain until she started prepping for the competition.

“I like the human body and biology and chemistry and how they go together and learning how they interact and learning about the brain and how we think – it’s just so interesting.”

Ruhigisha qualified for nationals after completing a written and oral exam at the University of Victoria earlier this year.

“She’s the student we want in the school, we want 20 of her if possible,” said Julie Gagnon, a Ecole Victor-Brodeur teacher who told Ruhigisha about the competition. “She’s dedicated to her studies and on top of it, she’s super smart. She has the ethics and the potential.”

Gagnon said Ruhigisha’s dedication and passion for learning has also inspired other students to participate in the challenge next year.

Though she didn’t rank in the top three, Ruhigisha hopes to compete again next year.