Clara Bils laughing in front of white board

Edina High School student Clara Bils became intrigued with brain conditions when she was fourteen and her grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder that affects nerve cells in deep parts of the brain. That was about three years ago. Next year, she’ll be off to study behavioral neuroscience at Northeastern University in Boston. In the interim, her exploration of the field of neuroscience has led her to noncredit lifelong learning programs offered by the U of M’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies.

“I had been taking night and online classes at the U as a PSEO student when I got an email offering free admission to a talk on brain science,” says Bils. “The talk focused on the ethical questions researchers need to ask when they’re studying human subjects, which combines two of my interests, brain science and ethics.”

As a high school student, Bils was one of the younger participants in what are commonly regarded as adult learning experiences. But she’s part of a trend. “In the past few years, we’ve started seeing more and more young people, particularly millennials and those from Gen Z, attending lifelong learning courses,” says Anastasia Faunce, former program director of LearningLife. “The outcome is a multigenerational classroom that so many people now crave. To me, Clara’s participation illustrates that CCAPS has programs for all ages and in many cases, they are not mutually exclusive.”

After the brain science event, Bils stayed to talk with the presenter, Dr. Sophia Vinogradov, the head of the U’s Department of Psychiatry. Bils’s participation and the connection she made with the instructor had an additional benefit: Dr. Vinogradov was so impressed with the ambitious teen that she invited her to observe in her lab during the May term. “I'll get to shadow and learn from some of the top neurospecialists in the nation,” says Bils. “I’m really looking forward to a good experience.”