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2010 Doctoral Marshal: Carlo Cerruti, Ed.D.'10

Carlos CeruttiOn Appian Way, Carlo Cerruti, Ed.D.'10, may be best known as being an advocate for students. For years, he was a member of the Doctoral Student Advisory Committee where he supported increased doctoral funding and promoting lab-based work among faculty and students.

It's no wonder that Cerruti was elected as marshal to represent the class of 2010 this week during commencement -- though he admits he didn't really pay attention to the nomination process. "At first it made me uncomfortable, but then I thought, my mom is going to love this," Cerruti says.

At Commencement, Cerruti plans to wear his grandfather's British Royal Air Force tie. Although Cerruti never met his grandfather, who died when his mother was only a month old, it is symbolic for him and his family. "After my grandfather died, my mother became a foster child and she made it to Radcliffe through hard work," he says. "She was the first person to go to college in her family. Wearing this tie and earning my doctoral degree is a way of closing the circle."

When Cerruti decided to attend HGSE, the circle was just opening. Following a decade spent teaching middle school at several progressive schools, Cerruti says he became intrigued by research, particularly uncovering new ideas about education and how kids think. "We think about kids in terms of strengths and weaknesses, but we don't do a great job at understanding how the mind and brain work," he says. Cerutti categorizes his research as neurocognitive and experimental.

For his dissertation, he examined specific regions of the brain dedicated to verbal activity and, then, another geared toward nonverbal activity. In particular, he wanted to discover whether you can increase verbal activity by interfering with nonverbal activity in the brain using an inhibition/disinhibition theory.

In a study of 57 people at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, Cerruti manipulated activity in the nonverbal part of the brain by using direct electrical stimulation and then tested participants' verbal activity. The results showed that when there was a decrease in nonverbal activity, people actually improved in verbal testing.

Cerruti says this research can impact teachers and researchers in education. "The brain consists of many different, lower order processes, but some of these conflict with each other and some of these are even neurologically in competition with each other," he says. "We should be more careful and realize that different areas of the brain work together and sometimes they work against each other. We need to be more careful when doing interdisciplinary curricula, for example, that we aren't asking children to engage different neurological processes that actually impair each other."

Cerruti plans to continue working on this as a postdoctoral research at that Harvard College Fellow Program, where he will conduct research in the psychology department with Professor Mahzarin Banaji, and also teach seminars.


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