University of Rhode Island to offer undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary neuroscience

New program is the only one of its kind in Rhode Island

Media Contact: Dawn Bergantino, 401-874-4147 |
The University of Rhode Island will launch an undergraduate program in neuroscience in the fall. The new B.S. in Interdisciplinary Neuroscience will offer students the option of three different areas of focus within their neuroscience major (URI photo)

KINGSTON, R.I. – January 13, 2020 – Undergraduates at the University of Rhode Island will soon have the opportunity to delve into the mysteries of the brain when the University launches a new undergraduate academic program in neuroscience in the fall. An expansion of the University’s graduate program in Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program (INP), which began in 2011, the new B.S. in Interdisciplinary Neuroscience will offer students the option of three different areas of focus within their neuroscience major, distinguishing it among neuroscience programs in New England.

The INP at URI brings together a wide range of disciplines—from basic research and clinical studies to new drug development—allowing for a more thorough study of neurological processes and disorders. The three degrees are: a B.S. degree with a major in Clinical Neuroscience from the College of Health Sciences; a B.S. degree with a major in Molecular Neuroscience from the College of the Environment and Life Sciences; and a B.S. degree with a major in Neuropharmacology from the College of Pharmacy. The new curriculum ensures that students will have a solid foundation in neuroscience topics that span the structure and function of molecules and how the nervous system regulates behavior, to the development of clinical and pharmaceutical treatments for neurological disorders.

“The interdisciplinary nature of our neuroscience program is one of its truly distinguishing features. We intentionally built the curriculum with the understanding that there are many different career paths that our students will be interested in,” says Leslie Mahler, associate professor of communicative disorders in the College of Health Sciences and director of the INP. “Offering three different tracks means that students will have the freedom to choose advanced courses that meet their future professional goals and will provide them with a firm foundation for pursuing their ambitions—whether that means medical school, graduate study, research, teaching, work in an allied health profession or something else entirely.”

The URI program will offer students access to training and faculty expertise from across five colleges at the University, as well as researchers at the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. Ten new undergraduate classes have been developed as part of the core curriculum, enabling students to explore fundamental concepts of neuroscience, learn research methods and apply that knowledge in the field through on- and off-campus learning opportunities. Core courses include: Foundations of Neuroscience (NEU 101); Neuroethics and Diversity (NEU 210); Neuroscience Research Methods (NEU 262); and Neuroscience Professional Development (NEU 230), among others.

Students will work closely with a dedicated interdisciplinary neuroscience adviser from the time they enroll and will choose which major is the best fit for their future career goals during their sophomore year. Undergraduates also stand to benefit from the collaborative relationship that has developed between the INP and the Ryan Institute.

“We have a community of neuroscientists that is dedicated to providing support for our students,” says INP Associate Director Alycia Mosley Austin. “We want every student to have hands-on experience with research and there is an amazing opportunity, both here on campus and through experiential learning components of the curriculum, to gain that. They won’t just be learning about science. They will be scientists.”

Planning in earnest for the major began in 2017, spurred by the growing synergy and increased collaboration among URI faculty members and graduate students in the INP and Ryan Institute researchers, as well as the addition of new faculty supported by the Ryan Institute. The University also found a rising level of interest among undergraduates, many of whom sought out classes focused on brain science or found their way to work in labs on campus.

Ryan Institute researcher Katharina Quinlan, who teaches the URI Grand Challenge course The Challenged Brain says, “There are a lot of students who are just so excited to learn more about neuroscience and some of them have actually joined my lab and are helping me in my research.”

Quinlan, who is studying neurodegeneration in the spinal cord and dysfunction in motor control disorders like cerebral palsy, ALS and spinal muscular atrophy, adds, “Among faculty, staff and students, there is a huge amount of grassroots enthusiasm for neuroscience here that is wonderful to see. From the research, to the interaction and collaboration between INP faculty and students and the Ryan Institute and vice versa, to now having graduate and undergraduate programs as part of the INP—If you are interested in neuroscience, URI is really a great place to be.”

Students who are interested in the interdisciplinary neuroscience undergraduate major can apply for the fall semester. For more information on the program and its curriculum, visit the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program page at the University of Rhode Island. Students with questions may contact the program directly at:  inp@etal.uri.edu.