Spotlight: Tyler Alterman

Can a glowing, brain-topped recycled bread truck revolutionize science education?

Yes — if Tyler Alterman (Hunter ’13) has his way.

Alterman has launched a campaign to fund The Think Tank, a cognitive science lab-on-wheels, in order to transform public perception of the sciences. He thought of the idea after reading a New York Times article about an artist who drove a “Trailer Park” around Manhattan, “inviting pedestrians inside an aluminum trailer filled with flora and benches.”

“If an artist can get away with putting a park on wheels, I thought, then why can’t I get away with putting cognitive science on wheels? Not having a good answer, I summoned my design background to draft a proposal for a cognitive science education station,” explained Alterman. “Upon hitting the streets, [The Think Tank] will drive to elementary and high schools where mobile researchers will teach students about the science of the mind. It will also invite citizens aboard to participate in studies and teach them how cognitive science can improve lives. Finally, The Think Tank will team up with world-renowned psychologists and neuroscientists to deliver sidewalk talks, taking citizens on their explorations into human thought and behavior.”

Tyler Alterman  (Hunter '13) with psychologist Steven Pinker.
Tyler Alterman (Hunter ’13) with psychologist Steven Pinker.

Influenced by what he describes as “a strong anti-psychology” and “anti-science” sentiment, he hopes to make cognitive science accessible by inviting people to engage in the scientific process.

He recalled his decision to leave Mahopac High School in his senior year to attend an alternative school called the Walkabout Program. For Alterman, who was frustrated with the style of conventional schools, Walkabout emphasized transforming students into well-rounded individuals, rather than test-takers. His opinion on science was heavily influenced by this nontraditional method of teaching; it was merely “brute facts.”

“But then, I began to actually do science in college — running psychology experiments,” said Alterman. “It was nothing like memorizing facts from a textbook. It was more akin to having a question I really cared about, and then figuring out the most thoughtful and inspired way to answer that question.”

Ideally, The Think Tank will draw from his metamorphosis into a scientist and help mold a more scientifically literate America. After launching his IndieGoGo campaign on his birthday (which happens to be on Darwin Day), Alterman has raised slightly over $4,000 of his $10,900 goal. He plans to purchase the vehicle that he and a team of artists will transform into The Think Tank with this money.

Alterman is studying Communications Design and Cognitive Science through the CUNY Baccalaureate program (CUNY BA). He originally wanted to use his video production, graphic design, website creation, and public relations skills to help non-profits; he designed a very successful campaign for and founded Macaulay Arts Night. His interest in learning what makes projects succeed or fail led to an independent study examining the science of social influence with Dr. Jason Young, and consequently, a new calling.

Alterman is a Jeanette K. Watson fellow and Goldsmith Scholar. He plans to pursue a PhD in Cognitive Science and become a “public-minded professor.”

“I believe it is time for us to teach kids and adults the type of science that isn’t about memorizing a list of facts, but about the process of answering questions in fun, creative, and thoughtful ways. That is, it’s time to teach real science.”

If you want to get updates about Tyler’s project, “like” The Think Tank’s Facebook page and follow The Think Tank on Twitter. If you’d like to donate to The Think Tank, visit its IndieGoGo page.

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