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Marilyn Welsh, Ph.D.

Marilyn Welsh, Ph.D.

University of Northern Colorado professor and executive functions expert Marilyn Welsh, PhD, presented results on research of BrainWise taught to homeless men at the 2016 International Neuropsychological Society meetings in Boston, Massachusetts.   The Treatment group, taught the BrainWise
program, included 210 males.  The smaller Comparison group had 61 men.  The groups did not differ significantly on age, race, or education.  The objective of the project was to evaluate the effectiveness of BrainWise and to measure changes, if any, in self-reported executive functions, problem solving skills, and coping self-efficacy  of the participants.

The results found that teaching BrainWise to homeless men was related to significant improvements in executive functions as measured by emotional control, planning, inhibition of impulses, working memory, task monitoring, and self-monitoring; coping self-efficacy and knowledge of critical thinking skills.  The comparison group exhibited a much smaller set of improvements and decreased problem solving skills.  For a copy of the poster, click BrainWise INS 2016 FINAL


March, 2014 brought the good news that the Jefferson County Public Health Nurses and Human Services Collaboration (Nurse Collaboration) has been selected as a Promising Practices Program by NACCHO, the National Association of City and County Officials. In 2010, The Nurse Collaboration was introduced as a new and innovative model to improve health decisions in at-risk families. The intervention: public health nurse home visitors teach the BrainWise decision-making program and show families how replace impulsive and emotional reactions with decision making skills. The program involved collaboration with the Jefferson County Human Service Children, Youth and Families Divisions and Community Health Services Division.

Lisa Gatti, MSN, RN, supervisor of the Nurse Collaboration, says that data have been collected on additional families, bringing the total number of clients to 150. Clients receive an average of 18-24 home visits of approximately one hour in length. The nurses collected pre and posttest data that measured parental behaviors, social support, child development knowledge, health literacy and resources and safety.

Data analyzed on the first 80 clients found they improved on all 36 variables, and showed statistically significant improvement on 24 variables. Analysis on 70 additional cases is waiting until the County hires a new data analyst.

Cherry Creek Rotary in Denver, Colorado has an eReader project and a partnership with Barnes and Noble to obtain the devices at a discounted rate. In looking for partners to start a project with elementary schools in Denver, Peter Vandervanter—a Cherry Creek Rotary member—spoke with Dr. Barry. In talking with him, Dr. Barry learned that questions could be added to the stories that were placed on the eReaders. Realizing the eReader stories could be used to reinforce the BrainWise concepts; Dr. Barry worked with Judy Cardenas, a kindergarten teacher who has taught BrainWise to her students for many years. They chose 3 stories (The Gingerbread Baby, Pete the Cat, and Chrysanthemum) on the nooks to add questions on the 10 Wise Ways in order to demonstrate how BrainWise introduces critical thinking to storytelling.
The Denver Mile High Rotary Club partnered with the Cherry Creek club and will distribute 4 devices to the BrainWise teachers at University Park Elementary School.

The BrainWise Program continues to reach out to a growing number of public and private entities, helping individuals master the decision making process and learn to control impulsive behaviors. Driving the growth of the BrainWise Program is a research team comprised of master BrainWise instructors, public health professionals, and academicians with expertise on brain functions and neurobiology. BrainWise Program founder Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry, PhD, RN, calls the diverse group of distinguished professionals “a committed and exceptional team. They have donated their time and expertise to help BrainWise gain recognition and reach more people.” Below are some of the BrainWise team members:

Matt Sena

Matt Sena, M.S.

Matt Sena, MS, a master BrainWise instructor, is Fatherhood Program manager for Chugachmiut Inc., in Anchorage, AK. Sena has taught BrainWise since 1998. For the last six years, he has trained and supported Alaska Native leaders to use the 10 Wise Ways to help youth and families living in rural tribal villages make good decisions. Sena, who is currently working on his doctorate in psychology, is involved with the Fatherhood and Families coalition, a consortium of agencies serving youth and young families. Sena says, “I believe in BrainWise because I have benefited from using the 10 Wise Ways in my life. When I began teaching BrainWise, I immediately realized the value it created in students based on their engagement and feedback. I always look forward to leading groups because each session is a rich experience lending to new strengths.

Marilyn Welsh, Ph.D.

Marilyn Welsh, Ph.D.

Marilyn Welsh, PhD, is a professor of education and psychology at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and a recognized national expert on measuring the brain’s executive functions. She is co-author, with Dr. Barry, of the chapter on BrainWise in the book by D. Romer and E. Walker called “Adolescent Psychopathology and the Developing Brain: Integrating Brain and Prevention Science.” Dr. Welsh continues to dedicate her time and expertise to BrainWise because, as she explains, “After more than 25 years of conducting research on executive functions, I was so impressed when I read Dr. Gorman Barry’s BrainWise curriculum because it took the theoretical concepts of executive processes…and put them into a language that everyone can understand, relate to, and use in their daily lives.

Mary Cazzell, Ph.D.

Mary Cazzell, Ph.D.

Marry Cazzell, PhD, RN, a professor for the School of Nursing at the University of Texas at Arlington, joined the BrainWise team in 2009. With her nursing background and expertise in neurobiology and adolescent risk behavior, Dr. Cazzell adds a cutting-edge evaluation component to BrainWise Program research projects. According to Cazzell, “I am a BrainWise advocate because BrainWise addresses the neurobiological basis of decision making and that has been the focus of my research on adolescents.”

Dr. Xiaoliang Le

Dr. Xiaoliang Li

Xiaoliang Li, MD, a founder of Pioneers in Health NPO, is a professor at Kunming Medical College, and a master BrainWise instructor. One of eight women selected as a fellow by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to tour the U.S., Dr. Li observed a BrainWise class at Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver and immediately saw how the 10 Wise Ways could be taught to Chinese youth. With funding from the Save the Children Foundation-UK, Dr. Li translated the BrainWise curriculum into Chinese and successfully field-tested the program in urban and rural areas. As she stated: “Dr. Gorman Barry has done a great service by creating BrainWise. The program contains universal tenets needed for problem solving and presents them in a manner that is easy to understand and retain.”

Rebecca Persing, Ph.D., RN

Rebecca Persing, DNP., RN

Rebecca Persing, DNP, RN, is supervisor of the Jefferson County Public Health Nursing and Human Services Collaboration, under the Jefferson County Department of Public Health and Environment. Persing was looking for an evidence-based program nurses could use to help TANF and child welfare families make good health decisions, and found BrainWise addressed all her desired criteria. According to Persing, “BrainWise has enabled our Human Services clients to have both the belief and the skills they need to overcome the patterns of family functioning and environmental factors that led them to involvement with Human Services.”

Dell Brooks

Dell Brooks, M.A.

Dell Brooks, MA, is a master BrainWise instructor and teacher with Denver Public Schools (DPS), and recipient of the 2010 Jared Polis Foundation Teacher Recognition Award for his work with BrainWise. Brooks has been teaching BrainWise for four years at Colorado High School Charter (CHSC), an alternative DPS high school for students who have had difficulty succeeding in a traditional education system. When asked for a teacher’s perspective on the BrainWise program, Brooks says, “BrainWise gives me tools to teach these young people about the brain, helping them learn skills to stop and take responsibility for their behaviors. The concepts in BrainWise need to be practiced by everyone, and the program’s 10 Wise Ways should become the foundation for teaching and learning critical thinking skills.”

Although they come from diverse backgrounds and bring unique experience to the team, these champions of BrainWise all share a common passion. Each of the team members is committed to helping people learn to override impulse and emotion by creating new skills to respond thoughtfully to the many choices and behaviors that guide their lives. From rural tribal villages in Alaska, to high school students in Denver, to victims of sex traffickers in China, BrainWise thinking skills are being field tested, taught, texted and integrated interactively online. Research on the outcomes of this education is being measured, evaluated and shared, and the BrainWise program is continuing to gain momentum throughout Colorado, the nation, and the world. According to Dr. Barry, “nobody else provides this level of experience, or the complexity of measurement and assessment that we do.” Driven by a firm belief in the importance of the BrainWise message, this team of experts is making significant strides in teaching people how to “Be BrainWise.”

BrainWise concepts elicit an “aha” response, according to a group of professionals who presented their work with special education students at a national conference on brain research held May 7-9 in Washington, D.C. Dr. Gary Swanson, along with Padmaja Chilakapati, MD, and Lynn Scholl, MEd, authored a presentation at the conference titled, “Integrating New Brain Research Findings Into Special Education Settings” that discussed the inclusion of BrainWise in their school-based partial hospital program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The program, called Wesley Spectrum Highland Services, has been using the BrainWise curriculum for about a year.

“We introduced the curriculum to our elementary age kids, and have recently expanded to include some of our middle school kids,” Dr. Swanson said.

Dr. Swanson first learned about the BrainWise Program after reading a paper co-authored by Dr. Patricia Gorman Barry, program founder, and Dr. Marilyn Welsh, professor at the University of Northern Colorado, published in the book, “Adolescent Psychopathology and the Developing Brain: Integrating Brain and Prevention Science,” that presented cutting-edge programs and research on the brain.

According to Dr. Swanson, “The BrainWise Program appealed to me because of the power of its explanatory model. I think it is considerably easier for children, parents and staff to understand that the behavioral and emotional problems that we see are not due to ‘chemical imbalances’ or ‘ADHD’ but rather, are the result of developmental connection problems that can be addressed through both therapy and medications.”

Dr. Swanson has shared BrainWise concepts with children, parents, nursing and milieu staff, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists.

“I am impressed by the ‘aha’ response that I get from many of them,” Dr. Swanson said. “Children have asked questions that reflect an understanding of the concepts, as have their parents. Professionals have readily recognized the way that the concepts fit our current understanding of the brain, and allow for the integration of different treatment interventions,” he added.

BrainWise was one of 20 programs selected to be presented in June of 2005 at the Adolescent Brain Conference at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Conference participants were selected because their work applied research findings that won Dr. Eric Kandel the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Dr. Barry presented her research on a BrainWise pilot study at five different school sites.

In 2007 her paper covering the results of the pilot study, co-authored by Dr. Marilyn Welsh, was published in Adolescent Psychopathology and the Developing Brain:  Integrating Brain and Prevention Science a book by Oxford University Press.

For a complete copy of the paper go to the BrainWise website at or contact BrainWise at

In response to many requests from teachers and parents, Dr. Barry has published a companion book to her curricula entitled:  “How to Be BrainWise: The Proven Method for Making Smart Choices.” As Dr. Barry explains in the preface to the book, for years she felt her work with children, youth and adults did little to help them change behaviors that diminished and sometimes ruined their lives. These succeeding generations who repeated cycles of violence, substance abuse, and other destructive behaviors lead her to found the BrainWise program.  The book summarizes the program that has been successfully taught in classrooms and at agencies and businesses throughout the world.

The book, published by Innisfree Press, is an easy-to-read and thoughtful book that has been described by Dr. David Olds, Ph.D. as a “terrific little book that helps parents become more mindful of their parenting and helps children think before they act.”

The book can be purchased through the BrainWise program’s website or at

During the 2004-2005 school year, a pilot study of BrainWise was conducted with 34 students at five school sites. Pre and post-tests were conducted with students using the Tower of London-R instrument (to test executive function) and the Stroop test (to test impulsivity). The findings showed that 28 of 34 students (82%) demonstrated improved performance on at least one of the measures and 16 of 34 (47%) demonstrated improvement on both the TOL-R and the Stroop.

A full paper outlining this study and its findings, as well as the theoretical base of BrainWise was presented by Dr. Barry in June at the 2005 Adolescent Brain Conference at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Conference participants were selected because their work applied research findings that won Dr. Eric Kandel the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine.  Dr. Kandel proved the brain’s neuroplasticity or its ability to form neural connections when it learned something new.