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State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approves School of Neuroscience for fall 2016

March 24, 2016

Photo of Harry Sontheimer

Harald Sontheimer
Harald Sontheimer will be executive director of the new Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) approved this week the Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience, effective fall 2016.

To be housed in the Virginia Tech College of Science and headed by neuroscientist Harald Sontheimer, the school was approved in November 2015 by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

SCHEV approved a bachelor’s of science in neuroscience in 2014, when the program was based in the College of Science’s Academy of Integrated Science. The bachelor’s and future graduate degrees will now be housed in the School of Neuroscience. The school promises to be a unique program in the nation, one that will study disorders of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury, and the mind itself, including decision-making, behavior, and creativity.

“This is a great day for Virginia Tech and an even greater one for our students,” said Sontheimer, executive director of the school. “With the establishment of the first School of Neuroscience in the United States, Virginia Tech is taking a bold step signaling its unprecedented support for this fast-growing scientific discipline. The school will provide students with a novel, exciting, and truly comprehensive learning experience. Students will be able to pursue a range of majors linked with neuroscience, including clinical, experimental, social, cognitive, computational modeling, and data systems, providing them with skills to succeed in professions ranging from biotechnology and medicine to business and law.”

The incoming recruiting class will number roughly 150 students.

“We deeply appreciate the support of SCHEV and the Board of Visitors for the School of Neuroscience, which positions Virginia Tech to become a global leader and preferred destination for students interested in all aspects of brain science,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “Spanning the disciplines, it will be a catalyst for collaboration, and prepare our graduates for success in a rapidly changing world.”

“The College of Science was established with the idea to explore ways in which science could be brought forward,” said Lay Nam Chang, dean of the College of Science and a driving force in the School of Neuroscience’s founding. “To see such wide interest in neuroscience from current and potential students is inspiring, and reinforces Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission of service and creating a better future.”

Students and faculty in the proposed school will explore how the mind works, including decision-making, the origins of biases, ethics, and creativity. Classes will span the entire university, touching on behavior economics, ethical decisions in business, consumer behavior, lifespan development, and courts and law.

Although Virginia Tech already has about 75 faculty and research scientists working on neuroscience research, J. Michael Bowers joined the College of Science as the neuroscience program’s first-full time faculty member in December. A second faculty member, associate professor Sarah Clinton, was hired earlier this year. An expected roster of eight faculty members will be in house by August.

By 2017, the number of faculty could be at 15, said Sontheimer, holder of the I.D. Wilson Chair in the College of Science and director of the Glial Biology in Health, Disease, and Cancer Center at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

A major in neuroscience was first considered in 2003 with the formation of the College of Science under the leadership of founding dean Chang. Interest in a full neuroscience program grew with the launch of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in 2010 under the leadership of Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech and executive director of the institute.

“The approval of Virginia Tech’s new school of neuroscience is a major step in the university’s growth of the health sciences,” said Friedlander. “Dr. Sontheimer is one of the top neurobiologists in the world, in terms of his research, leadership, and educational activities. We’re extremely fortunate to have him here at Virginia Tech to lead this program.”

The school is expected to have educational, research, and administrative space at a renovated Sandy Hall. Students also will participate in neuroscience research already ongoing at Virginia Tech Carilion and on the Blacksburg campus. The neuroscience school also will provide opportunity for undergraduate neuroscience students to become involved with biomedical neuroscience research in the recently launched Health Sciences and Technology Innovation District in Roanoke.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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