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Neuroscience Program for Young Scientists Gets Big Boost

Ramirez and Obama
White House Photo: In January 2011 President Barack Obama presented Ramirez with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

From his earliest career, teaching and mentoring has been as important to Julio Ramirez as his neuroscience research itself. The latest recognition of the R. Stuart Dickson Professor and Chair of Psychology's leadership and service comes in the form of a $1.35 million grant to enable a national neuroscience program to reach an even greater number of young minority scientists.

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has received funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through July 2019 in support of its award-winning Neuroscience Scholars Program. The program also has been recognized with a 2014 Power of A Summit Award from the American Society of Association Executives.

"The resources made available through the Neuroscience Scholars Program help participants to overcome obstacles that may otherwise have led to their early exit from the scientific research career pipeline," said Julio Ramirez, also a member of SfN's Professional Development Committee. "Through this program, SfN has made great advances in preserving the diversity of perspectives, backgrounds and experiences necessary for scientific innovation."

The Neuroscience Scholars Program is co-directed by Ramirez, who also founded and directs Davidson's neuroscience program. Ramirez was the co-principal investigator for the NIH grant and is co-director of the program with Gina Poe, associate professor of anesthesiology, molecular and integrative physiology, and neuroscience at the University of Michigan.

With the new grant, Ramirez said SfN is expanding the NSP program for young minority scientists. Each year up to 14 young scientists, known as NSP fellows, will receive intensive mentoring as well as annual travel awards and access to a wide range of professional development opportunities. In addition, all eligible applicants – as many as 135 in recent years – will be invited to serve as NSP associates, gaining access to live events and webinars, a rich library of educational resources and an online diversity affinity group of NSP mentors for those seeking career connections and guidance over the course of a two-year program.

The program builds on a 30-year commitment to diversity, consistently funded by NINDS. The Neuroscience Scholars Program has served nearly 600 underrepresented minority scholars through its efforts to address barriers that prevent potential scientific contributors from pursuing advanced careers in science. In the coming years, SfN will build on this strong foundation to guide and support underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities and neuroscience researchers with disabilities as they progress in their careers, help them to succeed as neuroscientists, and motivate the program's alumni to stay engaged in neuroscience to garner long-term professional success.

The SfN is an organization of nearly 40,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.

Excellence in the Field

Ramirez with Moses-Hampton
Julio Ramirez with Malcolm Moses-Hampton ’12

Ramirez's mentoring efforts were recognized as early in his career as 1989, when he was named North Carolina Professor of the Year and National Gold Medal Professor by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

In 1991 Ramirez co-founded the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN), an international organization committed to promoting and enhancing neuroscience education for undergraduate students. He also co-founded, with Professor and Chair of Biology Barbara Lom, its flagship publication, Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education.

In 2004 the NSF named Ramirez as one of eight recipients of its top teaching and research honor, the Director's Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. He used the accompanying grant from the NSF to establish a national mentoring program named "SOMAS" (Support of Mentors And their Students in the neurosciences). A later version of the program (SOMAS-URM), supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, focused on underrepresented groups in the neurosciences.

Ramirez spearheaded neuroscience at Davidson as an academic concentration, emphasizing discovery-based learning from introductory courses through advanced study and theses. Through his own research grants, and institutional grants written with Davidson colleagues, Ramirez has raised more than $7 million dollars for research at the college. The college recognized his contributions to academic life in 1998 by naming him as its first R. Stuart Dickson Professor.

In January 2011 President Barack Obama presented Ramirez with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). President Obama met with Ramirez and the other PAESMEM Awardees in the Oval Office for a 30-minute discussion on science, science education and mentorship. At Davidson's Commencement 2012, Ramirez received the college's top teaching honor, the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award. In 2014, the American Psychological Association awarded him its Distinguished Career Contributions to Education and Training in Psychology Award.

Related links:

See a video spotlight on Ramirez and the Summit Award.

More information about the brain can be found at BrainFacts.org, a public information initiative of The Kavli Foundation, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and SfN.