Newswise — This year, West Virginia University became the first university in the state to offer an undergraduate neuroscience major. The program, housed in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, is a dual effort between the departments of psychology and biology.

“Before, if there was a West Virginia high school student who wanted to study behavioral neuroscience, there was nothing for them in the state,” said Kevin Larkin, chair of the Department of Psychology. “There are a lot of developing programs in the area, and we wanted to have one available in the state. We have the expertise and the classes already, so it was the next logical step.”

The study of neuroscience seeks to understand how the nervous system functions in health and disease, and it is a rapidly growing field within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Neuroscience is a focus area of the Departments of Biology and Psychology as well as in the WVU Health Sciences Center and the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, which offers expanded opportunities for collaboration among the units.

“Students choosing to take part in the new neuroscience major will not only have access to some of the most cutting edge research the university offers, but will be well suited to enter one of the most exciting careers upon graduation,” said Kris Martens, coordinator of the neuroscience major and a teaching assistant professor in the Department of Psychology.  

Due to a high level of student interest in the field, the two departments decided to create a full Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience.    

“With this collaboration, we’re able to provide neuroscience courses that are taught in psychology and biology by world-class faculty,” said Richard Thomas, chair of the Department of Biology. “The students really get the best of both worlds if they’re interested in neuroscience.”

Students can choose from two areas of emphasis, behavioral neuroscience or cellular neuroscience.

Students will be prepared for a wide range of careers in the biological sciences including medicine, biotechnology and bioengineering, genetics and genomics and other neuroscience-related technical fields in government and private industry.

“I selected neuroscience as my major because as I was looking for colleges to apply to, colleges with this major continuously caught my attention. In the end, I chose WVU because the University provides so many research opportunities thanks to the R1 status,” said freshman Laura May, a Fairmont, West Virginia, native. “I am looking forward to this major because the classes required are all topics that I find interesting.”

Another student who decided to add a degree in neuroscience is Virginia Milleson, a Summit Point, West Virginia, native. After learning about Phineas Gage, a man whose personality drastically changed after a serious brain injury, Milleson developed a passion for neuroscience.

“I thought that it was so weird and fascinating, and I have been trying to learn as much as possible about neuroscience ever since,” said Milleson, a sophomore. “I am interested in a career as a clinical neuropsychologist, psychiatrist or a behavioral neuroscientist. My majors are a great combination because they allow me to be adequately prepared to pursue any of these careers.”

The application for admission is available now. Students interested in studying neuroscience can apply at admissions.wvu.edu.