Nearly 30 years ago, two Central Michigan University faculty members had a vision of establishing a neuroscience program. Starting with only a few students, very little space and limited resources, those faculty members grew what eventually became the first undergraduate neuroscience program in Michigan in 1999 and the top program in the country in 2013.
The growth of the program has provided CMU opportunities to continuously improve the curriculum and student research opportunities, but also has driven necessary expansion in curriculum, physical space and faculty. Along with lab space expansion, new faculty members have recently been hired to help meet demand.
Several of these new hires have joined existing faculty members in a unique interdisciplinary cohort, which brings together faculty from a variety of disciplines — including the Department of Psychology and the College of Medicine — to work as a team on teaching, research and scholarship. This hard-to-find team approach offers research opportunities that not only benefit students but also are making great strides in treatments for several neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington's and Alzheimer's.
“The people we hired have a passion for involving students in research, a passion to work as a team and skills sets we didn’t have before,” Dunbar said. “Having that diversity within a cohesive group of colleagues is what we were trying to get, and hopefully we got it. The opportunities we’re going to be able to provide have multiplied tenfold.”
Dunbar says the cohort approach at CMU is unique because it is rare for institutions to have neuroscientists from a variety of disciplines working closely together.
“Our new faculty all have different areas of expertise so collectively we can tackle a research question from all angles,” Dunbar said. “As we speak, we’re training the next generation of neuroscientists who will tackle diseases such as Huntington’s and Alzheimer's,” Dunbar said.
New neuroscience faculty member Kevin Park said he was attracted to many things about CMU, particularly the faculty’s excitement and passion, as well as the collaborative approach to research.
“The goal is to build our program on collaborative research, tapping into the diverse research interests and skills of the program faculty,” Park said. “Our emphasis on hands-on undergraduate research experience immerses the students in cutting-edge science, helping to instill passion within them.”
Even with the growth and expansion of the program, Dunbar said CMU will not lose focus on the foundation of neuroscience education upon which the program was built.
“We offer inquiry-based, hands-on research experience for our students at a magnitude that is unprecedented,” Dunbar said. “That was our passion, our goal and is something we hope to sustain. We don’t want to lose what we can offer our undergraduate students.”
Learn more about CMU's neuroscience program.