Students campaign for neuroscience studies

Our every thought and emotion resides within the brain, encompassing the sum of our intellectual capabilities, yet there is still much to learn about this complex organ.

The Campaign for Neuroscience at Portland State is voicing its support for a neuroscience program at PSU. On May 4, Dr. Bill Griesar gave a special teaching demonstration as part of his interview for a neuroscience-focused renewable faculty position in the psychology department.

“Neuroscience offers the possibility of answering fundamental questions about who we are and why we do what we do,” said Griesar. “Learning how the brain works—what it’s made of, how its structure determines its function, literally what you can think, feel and accomplish—is very powerful and often actionable information.”

Griesar was initially the faculty advisor for the Neuroscience Club, which grew quickly and won a SALPie award for Student Organization of the Year in 2014. He also works with many Neuroscience Club members through NW Noggin, an outreach group that seeks to bring scientists, artists and students of all ages together in an appreciation of and excitement for science and art.

The project involves graduate and undergraduate student volunteers in psychology, neuroscience and art from multiple institutions around the area including PSU, Washington State University–Vancouver, Oregon Health and Science University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

This year Griesar helped students get involved with the Oregon/SW Washington Society for Neuroscience chapter meeting, where members will present a poster next weekend at McMenamin’s Edgefield.

Griesar’s students share his passion for neuroscience. Austin Howard, a PSU senior with four majors, is one of them.

“The human brain is the interface by which we understand the universe,” Howard said. “It can be nothing but important. There’s no way you can brush it under the carpet.”

Alex Kunz, a biochemistry and psychology major, agreed. “Neuroscience is perhaps the most interdisciplinary field,” Kunz said. “It affords the opportunity for fields such as biology, chemistry, biomedical physics, computer science, and psychology to collaborate on some of the greatest advances in modern science.”

After Griesar’s educational lecture, students publicly voiced their support of him and their desire for a distinguished neuroscience program. Since CNaPS began in mid-February, it has garnered support from students, faculty, staff and the general public. The group’s mission is to integrate a neuroscience track by winter of 2018 and to get Griesar hired as the first faculty member of that program.

Howard hopes this will happen, even if it’s housed within the psychology department. “To not have a neuroscience department is problematic at best and negligent at worst,” Howard said.

Kunz said this is crucial for those hoping to attend graduate school. She is one of many students who have had difficulty piecing together courses that will provide the necessary preparation.

“Neuroscience students’ needs are not being met,” Kunz said. “We are being fed into top notch graduate schools, ill prepared for what is ahead of us. This is why CNaPS’ mission is so important, and why I chose to be a part of it.”

Rebekah Alexander is the marketing officer of the Neuroscience Club and another leader in CNaPS. She said group members understand many of the current students will no longer be at PSU by the time this track is formed, but they are working hard for it anyway so future students have a community of fellow brain enthusiasts.

“This is our way of giving back to our fellow lovers of neuroscience, our beloved teacher Bill Griesar and ultimately, we are giving back to PSU,” Alexander said. “We want PSU to be put on the map as a neuroscience hub institution.”