PULLMAN, Wash.–The Undergraduate Neuroscience Program is this fall’s newest degree being offered through Washington State University.
“This is an exciting time for anyone to be directing this effort,” said Sue Ritter, a professor and program chair in the WSU veterinary college’s Department of Veterinary and Comparative Anatomy, Pharmacology, and Physiology (VCAPP). “Currently there are only four such programs west of the Mississippi River: in California, Texas, Colorado, and Minnesota. WSU’s is now the fifth.”
Ritter said that undergraduate neuroscience programs elsewhere in the nation have been very successful. “For nearly four years we’ve been working on this concept. In the graduate program, we were getting students that had not had training in the neurosciences previously. This meant we had to provide foundation knowledge and the advanced training these students needed to succeed. It was reasonable to expand the foundation concept and train students at the undergraduate level.”
With a B.S. in neuroscience conferred from the program, students will be well prepared to enter graduate programs as well as professional studies in medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine.
“For those who choose not to continue their training,” said Ritter, “there are the same opportunities open to them that there are to other life science graduates in the rapidly expanding biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.” Much of the research thrust in biotechnology today is directed at neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, AIDS dementia and multiple sclerosis. The program’s target enrollment is 50 majors by the end of the second year.
Only approved in July, new course offerings will be limited the first year. This fall a course entitled “Exploring the Brain” will be offered. In the spring, “Neurochemistry” and “The Brain and Society” will be offered. The former two courses will be taught by VCAPP faculty exclusively while the latter will be taught by both VCAPP and WSU psychology faculty. Additional courses later in the curriculum will include biochemistry, cell physiology, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neuroscience of behavior and neuroscience research techniques.
Throughout the degree program, courses will be taught by faculty from veterinary medicine, as well as psychology, biology, chemistry and engineering. WSU is home to many internationally recognized neuroscientists, and the veterinary college is the base for the Northern Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience.
Neuroscience majors will be encouraged to become actively involved in the faculty research by joining lab groups with graduate and post-doctoral students. Neuroscience research interests at WSU include electrical and biochemical nerve cell activities; molecular biology and chemical anatomy of nervous tissues; hormone interactions with the nervous system; neural tissue repair and regeneration; drug actions on nervous system function; and neural mechanisms underlying memory, sleep, food intake, drug addiction and stress.
“For undergraduates and graduate students alike with an interest in neuroscience, WSU is a tremendous educational resource,” said veterinary dean Borje Gustafsson. “Now with WSU’s veterinary college involved in undergraduate education, this is a new challenge we look forward to. We are proud to be a major part of this truly interdisciplinary program that will involve our colleagues from across the campus.”