NMSU branding

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

$2.4 million grant will prepare undergraduates for careers in neuroscience

A grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow New Mexico State University and the University of Colorado Denver to focus on preparing students in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain region for careers in neuroscience research. The NIH awarded $2.4 million to the two institutions to establish the Building Research Achievement in Neuroscience (BRAiN) program to create the partnership.

Left to right: New Mexico State University professors Tim Ketelaar, Graciela Unguez, Jennifer Curtiss, Elba Serrano, Barbara Lyons and Tim Wright are part of the team collaborating with the University of Colorado Denver on a program to prepare students for careers in neuroscience. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

The grant was co-written by NMSU Regents Professor Elba Serrano and UC Denver School of Medicine Professor Diego Restrepo, who led the collaborative effort to prepare the BRAiN application for competitive review by a new NIH initiative, Blueprint for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity through Undergraduate Research Education Experiences. BP-ENDURE is part of the extensive NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, a cooperative effort among 16 NIH institutes, centers and offices that support neuroscience research.

Through the BRAiN program, junior and senior undergraduates at both universities will benefit from mentoring, research experience, curriculum development, seminars and journal clubs.

"The collaboration between the universities is all about forging institutional partnerships for innovative science and seeking a connection with students," Serrano said. "It's about providing these students with cutting-edge research opportunities and professional skills they can use to build their future."

Students will be chosen based on competitive criteria. Once accepted into the BRAiN program, undergraduates will take a weekly seminar during the school year, studying various neuroscience topics and conducting research in their respective campus neuroscience laboratories. Students will also have the opportunity to attend a neuroscience conference, meeting different members of the scientific community and examining different neuroscience practices.

During the summer, students will participate in eight-week paid research internships at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. In addition, students will attend seminars on applying to neuroscience graduate programs.

"The long term goal of the NIH BP-ENDURE initiative that supports BRAiN, is to build the nation's scientific workforce at the Ph.D. level," Serrano said. "The need is great in the field of neuroscience because neurological disorders affect millions of people. We hope the NMSU and UCD BRAiN Scholars will be the next generation of research leaders who will develop treatments for illnesses such as traumatic brain injury, autism, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease."

Throughout the program, students will be assigned to a research mentor from each university to give them added support, while keeping faculty in Colorado and New Mexico connected. NMSU mentors will include faculty from three colleges within the university including Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Education. NMSU faculty who will act as mentors include Special Education and Communication Disorders Professor Youkyung Bae, Institute of Applied Biosciences Professor Immo Hansen, Psychology professors Timothy Ketelaar and Dominic Simon, Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Barbara Lyons, Chemical Engineering Department Head Martha Mitchell, Computer Science Professor Joe Song and Biology professors Jennifer Curtis, Karen Mabry, Graciela Unguez and Timothy Wright. Serrano is seeking additional faculty to take on mentor roles. In addition, Unguez and UC Denver Professor Sondra Bland will join program directors Restrepo and Serrano as BRAiN associate directors, rounding out the leadership team.

Networking tools such as Skype and Facebook, along with seminars streamed live over the Internet throughout the year, will maintain the connection between students and faculty at each university.

"By having dual mentors and using a variety of social media, the program can feel more like a community," Serrano said. "Having two mentors for students will not only give them additional guidance, but they will already be familiar with the faculty and know what's expected when they attend the Denver campus in the summer."

Serrano plans to initiate the program in the spring semester and will begin accepting student applications in January 2011.

For more information on BRAiN Training and its collaborative efforts, visit BRAiN-NMSU at http://biology-web.nmsu.edu/serrano/neurolab/brain and BRAiN-UCD at http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/medicalschool/programs/Neuroscience/Program/Pages/brain.aspx.