By Leah Davis Christoper
When the distant threat of brain trauma became a family crisis, Dr. Ramona Hopkins’s career took a turn. Hopkins had graduated from BYU with an associate’s degree in nursing and worked as a nurse for over 15 years. But her four-yearold son’s anoxic brain injury launched her on a new quest. Searching for information on how oxygen deprivation affects the brain, Hopkins says, “I realized there was not much research, so I applied to graduate school.” Now she serves as a professor of psychology and neuroscience and as the new director of BYU’s Neuroscience Center.
Just like Hopkins, the 600-plus undergraduates in BYU’s rapidly growing neuroscience program find the field has unexplored territory. The program—established in 1999 and now the largest in the nation—offers diverse courses, including anatomy, biochemistry, genetics, and physiology.
To help fuse these disciplines, administration of the Neuroscience program switches every five years between the College of Life Sciences and the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences (FHSS), which will now direct the program until 2020. Dr. Michael Brown, former director, says “this sharing of administrative responsibilities keeps the center strong as we encourage students and faculty from all over campus to join our efforts to understand the human nervous system.” Under the mentorship of 27 faculty members from eight departments, many students complete internships and perform laboratory research.
Students find that the host college of the Neuroscience program is not as important as the skills the program fosters. As Hopkins explains, sharing the program between two colleges helps students “gain a better understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience.”
Since the experience with her son, Hopkins has published over 180 times on the effects of oxygen deprivation on the brain. Students in the neuroscience program can also hone in on specific interests as they prepare for professional schools and careers.