Professor Kim Brenneman, chair of the Eastern Mennonite University Psychology Department, is looking forward to collaborative, multidisciplinary explorations offered by the new neuroscience minor. The program, available to students in fall 2017, is jointly housed in the psychology and biology departments. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

New neuroscience minor strengthens pre-med program and grad school preparation

A neuroscience minor is the newest addition to the more than 60 academic programs of study already offered by Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).

“This minor, housed jointly in EMU’s psychology and biology departments, reflects the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of emerging brain science, requiring students to develop expertise in both fields,” says Dr. Gregory Koop, professor of psychology.

A wide-ranging multidisciplinary field that studies the brain and nervous system, neuroscience is reshaping many other fields, with applications explored by educators, therapists, economists, business leaders, medical professionals and law enforcement, among others.

“This minor will strengthen and broaden our students’ preparation for careers in medical sciences and for graduate studies in psychology,” says Dr. Kim Brenneman, chair of the psychology department.

Rounding out pre-MCAT prep

More than 80 percent of EMU students who complete EMU’s pre-professional health track are accepted into medical school; this new minor has the potential to increase that statistic.

A 2015 revision to the Medical College Acceptance Test (MCAT) has added a section on “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior.” Subject matter in this section, according to U.S. News and World Report, is generally covered in upper-level psychology and sociology courses.

The neuroscience minor, with its emphasis on interdisciplinary scholarship, will also prepare students for graduate school.

Applicable to broad range of majors

Core courses for the minor are general psychology, abnormal psychology, neuropsychology and advanced neurobiology. In addition, students would complete an advanced research course to explore the wide application of neuroscience to a topic of interest. Electives include advanced human physiology or cognitive psychology and a biology research seminar or psychological research design and analysis.

Advisors from both psychology and biology programs will mentor students seeking to apply neuroscience curricula to a broad range of majors.

Bringing a wide variety of interests to her program of study, senior Michaela Mast is a psychology major with minors in music and honors. She had considered adding a biology minor, but the new neuroscience minor fits her interests.

“I thrive on educational input from an array of perspectives,” she says. “Interdisciplinary study provides a rich view of the world. I enjoy the study of psychology, but I appreciate having the insight into the whole picture that is offered with the study of neuroscience.”

Neuroscience is broadly embedded in EMU curriculum and programs

Neuroscience is already a strong curricular component with elements of applied neuroscience embedded in undergraduate coursework for teacher education and peacebuilding and development programs, and in graduate coursework of the MA in biomedicine program, counseling, education, restorative justice in education and conflict transformation programs.

Neuroscience is also an important component of the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) program, housed in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. The program, founded after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, conducts trainings about the world to a variety of audiences seeking to understand physical, mental and emotional responses to trauma.

The new minor meets institutional and departmental goals of “exposing students to cutting-edge research.” Venues to interact and network with professionals include regional neuroscience and psychology conferences. In 2016, for example, nine senior psychology majors landed invitations to share their independent research projects at the Virginia Association for Psychological Science annual conference. More than 30 EMU psychology students have attended the Society for Neuroscience conference, which hosts approximately 30,000 attendees every three years in Washington D.C.

Students can add the minor to their portfolio beginning fall 2017.