|Prof. Ramirez Honored as First-Ever Undergrad Teacher to Receive National Neuroscience Education Award
November 14, 2011
|Ramirez pictured with student assistant Malcolm Moses-Hampton '12.
Julio Ramirez, Dickson Professor of Psychology, has become the first-ever undergraduate educator to receive the annual "Award for Education" from the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). The award, first presented in 1991, recognizes one individual per year who has "made outstanding contributions to neuroscience education and training." In earning this honor, Ramirez will be added to a list of prominent past recipients, such as Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel and neurologist Oliver Sachs.
Ramirez said, "I'm still incredulous. The award has always gone to a major figure in research and education, so I didn't consider that I might get it. I was honored for having been nominated, and when I got the news that I actually won, I was shocked."
Ramirez served on SfN's Minority Education and Training Affairs Committee for six years, and is now a member of its Professional Development Committee. The award was presented this past weekend at the organization's annual national conference held in Washington D.C
Ramirez has been widely honored for his persistent commitment to educating students in science by involving them in research in their undergraduate careers. He has mentored more than 125 students in his lab as research colleagues in investigating recovery of memory function through neuronal sprouting following brain injury. That research might yield insight into means of helping humans avoid, or recover, from Alzheimer's disease. His work has resulted in dozens of articles in scientific journals, many of which were coauthored by his students.
"I joke about having coined the term of ‘tearching,'" commented Ramirez. "It's the combination of teaching and research. That's the way you learn science. It's a lot like being a performing artist. How can a pianist call him- or herself a pianist without ever playing a piano? So how can you call undergraduates ‘scientists' if they only have experience with pre-packaged, time-worn lab exercises and don't conduct real science?"
Ramirez joined the Davidson faculty in 1986, founded the college's neuroscience program shortly thereafter, and spearheaded its establishment as an academic concentration. He emphasizes discovery-based learning from introductory courses through advanced study and theses.
In 1989 he was named North Carolina Professor of the Year and National Gold Medal Professor by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.
In 1991 he co-founded the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN), an international organization committed to promoting and enhancing neuroscience education for undergraduate students. He was the founding president of FUN for three years, and in 2002 he co-founded and became senior editor of FUN's flagship publication, the Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education. The organization presented him with its Career Achievement Award in 2001.
In 2004 the National Science Foundation named Ramirez as one of eight recipients of its top teaching and research honor, the Director's Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars.
That award included a $305,000 prize for the implementation of a project. Ramirez fittingly used the money to found the "Support Of Mentors And their Students from Under Represented Minorities" (SOMAS-URN) program.
SOMAS-URN provides funding to junior faculty for the support of undergraduate research in the neurosciences. With additional funding from the NSF and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, SOMAS has funded 37 research projects from more than 30 primarily undergraduate institutions since 2004. Ramirez maintains contact with awardees in order to provide continued support of their undergraduate neuroscience research programs.
Ramirez has also been named as a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), of the American Psychological Association (APA), and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Last spring he received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, an honor that included a meeting with President Barack Obama.
Through his own research grants, and institutional grants written with Davidson colleagues, Ramirez has raised more than $5 million dollars for research at the college.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,900 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.