|Neuroscience Program Celebrates Successful Spring
July 14, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
by Rachel Andoga
Although the campus is a relatively quiet place for these summer months, the neuroscience program is making noise about its recent success. This spring, four neuroscience students received national honors. Julio Ramirez, Dickson Professor of Psychology and leader of the program, said “We have had a very good run since we began in 1991, but this spring was particularly bountiful for our students.”
|2008 Neuroscience Graduates. First Row( l-r): Courtney Cron and Karina Todd. Second Row (l-r): Dominic Ippolito, Jordan Iordanou, Martina Mustroph, David Kern, Kate Gildersleeve, Emma Garren. Third row: Karl Schmidt.|
Mercedes Robinson ’09 received a highly competitive award from the National Institute of Mental Health in support of her research in the neuroscience lab. It will support her research for her senior year, and for a postgraduate year at Davidson as a research fellow.
Sarah Rhodes ’09 received a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which recognizes the most outstanding rising juniors and seniors in the nation in science, engineering, and mathematics. It will partially cover the cost of tuition, room and board for her senior year. Another neuroscience student, Kelli Carroll ’09, received the award last year.
Recent graduate Martina Mustroph ’08 recently had the opportunity to present her neuroscience research to Congress through the Council on Undergraduate Research’s “Posters on the Hill” program. She was one of sixty student participants selected from more than 400 applicants.
Other award winners in neuroscience include Jordan Iordanou ’08, who received the neuroscience program’s Sigma Xi Research Award and has recently been accepted to the M.D./Ph.D. program at Downstate Medical School. Karl Schmidt ’08, psychology major and neuroscience concentrator, received the Sigma Xi Research Award in psychology. David Kerns ’08, who graduated with a neuroscience concentration, received the psychology department’s Edward Palmer Award for Outstanding Service. There are ten students currently pursuing summer research in neuroscience this summer.
Ramirez began his neurological research in the area of neuroplasticity as a graduate student at Clark University, studying the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. In 1985, his line of research turned out to have relevance in the study of Alzheimer's disease, when it was discovered that the changes he and his colleagues had been studying in the rat brain also occurs in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Ramirez joined the Davidson faculty in 1986, and in 1991 received faculty approval to create the neuroscience program as an academic “concentration.” It was one of the first of the dozen areas of interdisciplinary study currently approved as concentrations. Since then, roughly 200 students have worked in Davidson’s three neuroscience labs alongside Associate Professor of Biology Barbara Lom, Associate Professor of Psychology Mark Smith, and Ramirez, and 56 of them have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Ramirez recalled, “The notion of concentrations had only recently been introduced, and it seemed to me that neuroscience was an exemplar of interdisciplinary education.” Students also have the option of majoring in neuroscience through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.
Ramirez explained that the addition to the faculty of Mark Smith in 1998 and Barbara Lom in 2000 increased the number of neuroscience courses and cutting-edge research opportunities available to students seeking the concentration. He added, “The funding that we’ve gotten from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute over the years has also enabled us to continue to add innovative courses, to substantially improve our education and research facilities in biomedical science, and to reorganize the structure of the concentration to provide a superior education in neuroscience to Davidson students.”
The program is also gaining momentum by increased numbers of students seeking the curricular credentials. Formerly, one or two students graduated annually with a concentration or major in neuroscience, but there were six in the recently graduated Class of 2008.
The success of Davidson’s neuroscience program extends beyond the boundaries of campus—graduates who were once neuroscience students themselves are joining the academic ranks of the professors who taught them. For example, Jennie Hillmann ’00 received a Ph.D. from UNC Chapel Hill this past spring, and Jennifer Caldwell Wilhelm ’01 will be completing her studies toward a neuroscience Ph.D. at Emory University this summer.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. 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. Davidson awards B.A. or B.S. degrees in 20 different majors; students also may develop an interdisciplinary major through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.
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