Sojas Wagle, a 15-year-old sophomore at Springdale's Har-Ber High School, has become the second Arkansas student in as many years to win the USA Brain Bee Championship that is held annually at the University of Maryland.
Sojas succeeds Little Rock Central High student Karina Bao as Arkansas' 2017 winner and as 2017 national champion of what was a six-part, three-day competition last weekend.
He is now eligible to participate in the International Brain Bee Championship that has been held in the past in locations as distant as Denmark and Australia but will be in Washington, D.C., this year. The competition will be held Aug. 3-6, in conjunction with the American Psychological Association conference.
"What do you have in the water in Arkansas?" quipped Norbert Myslinski of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, referring to the state's back-to-back winners in the bee that he started 18 years ago in his basement.
Winners from 51 Brain Bee chapters in 30 states competed March 17-19 in Baltimore in the event hosted by the University of Maryland dentistry school's department of neural and pain sciences. Written and oral exams, patient diagnoses using actor patients, and microscopic slide studies -- as well as exercises in labeling brains and using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI -- are all elements of the national contest.
Sojas narrowly outscored runner-up Aarthi Vijayakumar of Minneapolis and Amit Kannan of Indianapolis, who came in third. In addition to going to Washington, D.C., in August, Sojas won an eight-week internship in a neuroscience laboratory and a donation will be given to the brain-disorder charity of his choice, the Alzheimer's Association.
Sojas said this week that his interest in the contest was prompted by his independent study of an Advanced Placement psychology course last year. A search on the Internet about the subject turned up the Brain Bee, so he contacted local Brain Bee coordinator Andrew James at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to participate.
Sojas placed third in the state contest last year and came in first at the Feb. 15 contest this year at the Central Arkansas Library System's main library in downtown Little Rock.
"I studied harder and kind of perfected the neuroanatomy section to make sure I was familiar with all parts of the brain and could point those out on a brain model," Sojas said about his preparations for this year's contests.
His studies were supplemented by advice and guidance from medical professionals in Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock. His school also provided support in allowing him to take a week off from his regular course work to prepare for the national bee earlier this month.
The eight-week internship, Sojas said, will likely be delayed until the summer of 2018 so that he can spend time this summer preparing for the world championship.
Sojas, who also does debate and plays the violin, is considering a career in medicine, possibly neurology, but has not yet selected a university. He is the son of of Sameer Wagle, a neonatologist, and Aparna Wagle, a computer laboratory manager for the Springdale School District.
Myslinski said the multilevel contest is meant to build interest in neueroscience in teenagers in the United States and around the world.
"Its purpose is to help find cures for brain disorders. What we do is inspire and motivate young men and women to go into those professions, to be neuroscientists or neurologists and psychiatrists. There are more than 1,000 brain disorders out there, and many don't have cures. We need as many people in this area as possible, especially with brain disorders increasing -- such as Alzheimer's disease -- as life expectancies increase."
More information about the Brain Bee competitions, including how to support them through financial donations or volunteerism, is available from Myslinski at firstname.lastname@example.org, or from James of the Arkansas chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, at GAJames@uams.edu.
Metro on 03/25/2017