UWRF launches new major in neuroscience to address growing interest

Posted February 2, 2016

A new undergraduate program in neuroscience will begin this fall at UW-River Falls. The UW System Board of Regents approved the addition of the degree in December.

The program will start accepting students a year earlier than originally anticipated. Travis Tubré, chair of the psychology department, said that this is possible because the program will add just one new course, utilizing already existing classes from a variety of departments.

Psychology Assistant Professor James Cortright will be the coordinator for the program, advising students and teaching the new course, Introduction to Neuroscience (Neuroscience 111). He said that the program will allow for a lot of cross-department collaboration as the students study many different topics.

“It’s an interdisciplinary field combining aspects of psychology, biology, chemistry,” Cortright said, “so, in large part, it’s looking at behavior and different components of behavior and a lot of the biological, chemical components that underlie those different types of behavior.”

Studying biological processes has always been important to psychology, but the methods to study them haven’t always existed. Tubré said that recent advances in technology and an increased understanding of the brain have allowed neuroscience to become a growing field.

“There’s a lot of research and interest and support for neuroscience,” Tubré said. “More people are living longer and dealing with age-related changes in cognitive function.”

According to the World Health Organization, up to 1 billion people worldwide had neurological disorders in 2007, including epilepsy and brain injuries.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bradley Caskey said that this new program will give students interested in neuroscience a chance to study a field at UWRF that they’ve previously only been able to sample.

“Right now we have a psych program where students can dabble in that a little bit in biology and chemistry,” Caskey said. “But this gives a specific undergraduate degree, which was critical for people who are thinking about going into graduate school and beyond in neuroscience.”

Animal science major Jasmine Houska said that even though she personally isn’t interested in the program, it still sounds like a good opportunity for the university.

“It’s cool for the school to have that new option available to students,” Houska said.

Tubré said that UWRF’s neuroscience program will differ from the program at UW-Madison because Madison’s program is more of a neurobiology program, while UWRF’s program will be rooted in psychology.

“The ideas will be more focused on the behavioral end of the spectrum, so basically understanding the behavior from the context of the structure and biological processes,” Tubré said. “So they’re very similar, but theirs is a biologically-oriented program in the biology department.”

Tubré said that he doesn’t expect a large number of students to begin the neuroscience program the first semester, because a lot of recruitment has already taken place and many graduating high school students have already made decisions. However, current UWRF students will have the option to add or switch to a neuroscience degree, and new students who have already been accepted into different programs may decide to switch as well.