University of Calgary

Neuroscience program

Dec. 2, 2008

U of C launches new undergraduate neuroscience program

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L-R: Rachel Sharkey, Omid Javizian and Vikram Karnik are all taking part in the new undergraduate neuroscience program. / Photo by Ken Bendiktsen

The University of Calgary will welcome its first class of students into a unique undergraduate neuroscience program this January. The new program, which recently received Province of Alberta funding, will target students directly out of high school and offer them opportunities to take on leadership roles in a burgeoning health field.

“The need to create an undergraduate program for neuroscience has never been greater. It is well recognized that the investigation, prevention, and treatment of brain disorders are increasingly important priorities for our society,” says Harvey Weingarten, president of the University of Calgary. “The rapid growth in neuroscience has created a need for undergraduate students with a broad background in neuroscience-related disciplines to lead the health care innovations of the future.”

The new degree program is a collaboration of the faculties of science, social sciences and medicine, and is designed to offer students an interdisciplinary experience. The program will draw on the long-established clinical and research expertise of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), University of Calgary’s flagship centre dedicated to advanced neurological and mental health research and education. The HBI has been a significant catalyst for the creation of the new program.

Doug Horner, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, officially launches the new program. The Government of Alberta is pr

Doug Horner, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, officially launches the new program.
The Government of Alberta is providing $475,000 in funding. / Photo by Ken Bendiktsen

The program curriculum draws on the vast neuroscience expertise that exists at the University of Calgary with students benefiting from the wisdom of over 100 scientists in more than 10 different disciplines. The first class of neuroscience students begins their new neuroscience courses in January after taking several first-year science courses in the fall term.

The Government of Alberta, through the Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology, is providing $475,000 in funding to the University of Calgary for the new program.

“One of my ministry’s priorities is to strengthen Alberta’s research excellence and we are pleased to fund these valuable spaces," says Doug Horner, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology. “These graduates will not only enhance our research community and high-tech sectors, but they will help us build Alberta’s knowledge-based economy and health care future.”

Alberta is a leader in neuroscience exploration and the provincial government considers work in the area a priority. At full capacity, the program will have 100 students; with approximately 25 graduating each year. The creation of this program will, for the first time in Alberta, allow students to study neuroscience from the undergraduate to post-graduate level at one institution.

The creation of the new undergraduate program is part of a larger expansion of the University of Calgary’s neuroscience initiatives, thanks in part to a significant donation from the Kahanoff Foundation. The Foundation, through Reach!, has donated $2 million to the HBI; $1 million of the donation will be used to support the undergraduate program, while another $1 million is supporting graduate, post-graduate and clinical research training in the HBI.

“As a Calgary based foundation, we are pleased to be able to provide the support necessary to help take a great idea and make it a reality, and in doing so, strengthen the university’s position in the community and province,” says Jim Hume, president of The Kahanoff Foundation.

The Kahanoff Foundation has a mandate to provide funding for creative and innovative charitable organizations and programs in Israel and Canada, with a specific focus on the Calgary community. Reach! is the joint fundraising initiative of Alberta Health Services (Calgary) and the U of C.

Brenda Mackie, Reach! co-chair added: “This program speaks to the power of partnership—the U of C, the philanthropic community, and government—and what can be accomplished through vision, leadership and opportunity. Creation of this program will allow the U of C to establish a very strong undergraduate program in neuroscience in Canada and ensure that we are creating a pool of graduates that will provide the leaders of tomorrow.”

The new undergraduate neuroscience program includes classroom study, lab technique courses, seminars, associated tutorials and a mentorship program. Students, as early as those in first year, will have the opportunity to participate in a neuroscience field course, a teleconference course in partnership with the universities of Alberta and Lethbridge and extensive interaction with clinical neuroscientists. Students will also participate in hands-on research alongside leading neuroscientists.

“This program is truly unique in its broad coverage spanning basic biology to the neuroscience clinic, the large number of experiential hands-on elements, and the attention to neuroscience right from the first year. These students will start by learning basic scientific principles, but quickly develop a deep understanding of brain science intricacies,” says Jeffrey Goldberg, head of the Department of Biological Sciences and a member of the steering committee that established this program. “These students are the ones who will go on to professional programs, including medicine, physiotherapy, dentistry and veterinary medicine as well as a number of graduate programs and other career paths related to neuroscience.”

Omid Javizian is one of the students enrolled in the first year of the program. He says he was very excited to learn that the U of C was offering such a program.

“I’ve always been interested in how things work. I looked at the neuroscience program as being my opportunity to look at how the human body worked—the most complex system of them all,” says 17-year-old Javizian. “The brain, after all, is the control centre of the human body and with the interdisciplinary aspect of this program, I realized that I can not only look at it through the biology—through the central nervous system—but also through psychology.”