Next fall, the University of Rhode Island will institute an interdisciplinary undergraduate neuroscience program, offering three different tracks for students to follow.

Undergraduate students will be able to pick the clinical neuroscience track, the molecular neuroscience track or the neuropharmacology track. 

“For the first two years really students take very similar courses in biology, chemistry, math, statistics, physics, but during that time, they will take neuroscience specific courses to help them understand what aspect of neuroscience they want to pursue, so they will pick one of those three tracks,” Professor and Executive Director of the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program Leslie Mahler said. 

While URI’s interdisciplinary neuroscience graduate program has been in place since 2011, the University offering this major for undergraduate students has been in development for the past two years. 

The neuroscience program being interdisciplinary means that it will cross five different university colleges as well as specific departments and disciplines.

“That’s great for students because that means that they have access to this breadth of expertise and experiences, so we love that for undergraduate and graduate students,” Mahler said.

Mahler said that a group of neuroscience graduate faculty worked on a feasibility study to see if the program was right for URI. 

“The creative part was trying to decide if an undergraduate program was good for URI, so we had a year of investigating [and] looking at other programs,” said Mahler. “We had an outside consultant come in [to] take a look at the people who were teaching in the graduate program and advise us whether the undergraduate program made sense.”

Once they decided that it would be a beneficial program for undergraduate students, the team worked towards the implementation process at the University.

“The next year we spent trying to implement it, developing a curriculum, looking at courses that URI already offers and creating courses that didn’t currently exist,” Mahler said. “There was a lot of discussion about whether it should be a department, should it be a program, and it was the provosts’ visions about the importance of interdisciplinary work at URI that led us to developing an interdisciplinary program.”

For the fall of 2020, URI has limited admission to the program to 35 incoming students and ten transfer students in order to see how successful students are in the program. 

According to the Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Dean Libutti, there are already over 100 applicants. While this does mean that all of those students will enroll at URI, Mahler stated that it shows that URI was right in thinking a neuroscience program would be of interest to undergraduate students. 

Mahler believes that no matter what program students are in, neuroscience is of interest.

“People are living longer to have strokes, to develop Alzheimer’s disease, to develop Parkinson’s disease, so whatever you’re studying, whether it is social science, or an allied health profession or molecular science, students are going to have an interest in what is going on in the brain,” Mahler said.