URI launches undergraduate degree program in interdisciplinary neuroscience, welcomes inaugural class

Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy to deliver keynote

Media Contact: Dawn Bergantino, 401-874-4147 |
Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy
Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy will speak October 14 as part of celebration to officially launch URI’s new undergraduate program in interdisciplinary neuroscience. (Photo courtesy: The Kennedy Forum)

KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 9, 2020 – The University of Rhode Island will celebrate the launch of its new undergraduate program in interdisciplinary neuroscience on Wednesday, Oct. 14, at noon with a free virtual event to extend an official congratulations and welcome to its inaugural class.

Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, noted mental health advocate, will keynote the event. Joining Kennedy will be URI Provost Donald H. DeHayes, Director of URI’s Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program (INP) Lisa Weyandt, INP faculty, and undergraduate students.

Kennedy was the lead author of the landmark Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Federal Parity Law). In 2013, he founded The Kennedy Forum, a nonprofit that unites advocates, business leaders, and government agencies to advance evidence-based practices and policies for the treatment of mental health and addiction. In 2015, Kennedy co-authored The New York Times best-seller, “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction,” which details a bold plan for the future of mental health care in America. In 2017, he was appointed to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Kennedy is also the founder of DontDenyMe.org, an educational campaign that empowers consumers and providers to understand parity rights and connects them to essential appeals guidance and resources; co-founder of One Mind, an organization that pushes for greater global investment in brain research; co-chair of Mental Health for US, a nonpartisan initiative designed to elevate mental health and addiction in policy conversations during the 2020 election cycle; and, co-chair of the Action Alliance’s Mental Health & Suicide Prevention National Response to COVID-19. He spoke at URI’s 133rd Commencement in 2019, during which he received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

“Congressman Kennedy has long been a supporter of the University of Rhode Island, an advocate for mental health and a fighter to bring parity to mental health and substance use disorders,” said Weyandt. “As someone who, during his visit to help us launch the INP graduate program in 2011, referred to the brain as the ‘last medical frontier,’ Congressman Kennedy understands the value of –and has pushed for increased funding for– brain research. We couldn’t be happier to welcome him back to the University to help us mark the beginning of the undergraduate neuroscience program and congratulate our inaugural undergraduate class.”

The event is sponsored by URI Office of the Provost, Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program, Colleges of the Environment and Life Sciences, Health Sciences, and Pharmacy. Registration is free and open to the public at: uri.edu/inp/kennedy.

The new Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Neuroscience offers students the option to choose from among three 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, cellular function, psychological disorders, and brain health promotion.

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 and further study in neuroscience, ranging from the structure and function of molecules and organelles, chemical sensors, genetic disease, foundations of motor behavior and psychological processes, language and communication, and brain computer interfaces, to clinical and pharmaceutical treatments for neurological and psychological disorders.

The program, announced in January, accepted 44 students for the fall semester, including Thomas M. Ryan Scholar, Erek Bickford, ’24, of Campton, N.H.

“I have always been interested in the brain and how it works. I was particularly interested in URI because of the ability to major specifically in neuropharmacology, which is somewhat unique,” said Bickford, who is interested in the drug development and approval process. “I’m looking forward to being able to specialize and get as much hands-on experience as possible in my major, and to work with researchers and scientists both through the INP program and the Ryan Institute.”

The URI program offers 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. As part of the program, students will work closely with a dedicated interdisciplinary neuroscience adviser from the time they enroll.

Said Bickford, “Our advisers have been great and very communicative about the neuroscience community at URI and the opportunities that lie ahead. I’m excited.”

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.