Major issues: Neuroscience students pushing for revised curriculum


Milan junior Kelsey Yarger speaks to Central Michigan University Student Government Association about a proposal to reorganize the neuroscience program on Nov. 5 in the Bovee University Center Auditorium.

Central Neuroscience Society (CNS) gathers every Thursday in Brooks 203 to plan neuroscience-related events and discuss career opportunities. However, its Nov. 1 and Nov. 8 meetings focused on a different mission.

The mission took form in a letter-writing workshop where neuroscience students articulated their demands for an official School of Neuroscience and neuroscience-specific curriculum. Members addressed their letters to Central Michigan University President Robert Davies,

“(The letter-writing workshop) makes me very proud and I feel like it’s a good way to show that students are involved and interested,” CNS president Shelby Miller said. “Emails are easy to disregard, but once you get a letter, you have to physically get rid of it. We wanted to take that extra step to make our wishes more impactful.” 

For the past 20 years, professor Gary Dunbar campaigned for a revamped neuroscience curriculum. Now, following his unexpected resignation as director of the neuroscience program, student voices have mobilized.

Dunbar sent a letter of resignation to department of psychology Dean Richard Rothaus Oct. 24.

“Dunbar’s resignation makes me feel both angry and heartbroken,” Nu Rho Psi, neuroscience fraternity President Sheila Heileman said. “He built an award-winning neuroscience program from nothing and is advocating passionately for his department just like any other director would. He has advocated for the student body every step of the way and made (students) a priority.”

In 2015, Dunbar gained national recognition for his undergraduate neuroscience program and passion for teaching. As a result, Dunbar received the Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year award for his contributions to the university. Unsurprisingly, his resignation has come as a heavy hit to students.

“Revamping the program, making it the nation’s best and making sure student voices are heard are things Dr. Dunbar has been fighting for,” CNS secretary Kelsey Yarger said. “To see him step down is extremely disheartening and to see the circumstances surrounding his decision has ignited students to push for changes in our curriculum.”

Last fall, Dunbar and four other faculty members drafted a proposal which mapped out what a revised neuroscience curriculum would look like, including courses such as Neuroscience 101, Foundations 1&2, Methods 1&2 and neuroscience-specific electives. 

“The current plan is made up of a bunch of introductory courses in chemistry, biology and psychology, but there’s not a course in our major that explains how to apply all of those subjects to the human brain,” Yarger said. “A new curriculum would include all of the information that gives us the material we need to know while applying it to our field.”

Besides more relevant coursework, Yarger said in an email that the benefits from a new curriculum are estimated to save students $3,500 in pre-requisite tuition -- and wouldn't require additional funds from the university. Though the proposal was dismissed last year, the hope for a school of neuroscience still stands.

“On a low-grade scheme, a school of neuroscience is going to help students and provide the tools we’re paying for,” Miller said. “On the grand scheme of things, this is world-changing. This is how you promote ideas and save lives. While it seems small and insignificant to implement here, we’re going to be setting the standard for every school across the nation.”

In addition to the CNS and Nu Rho Psi letter-writing workshops, Yarger has taken the complaints to SGA and a petition calling for a School of Neuroscience is currently circulating online.

“We need to be putting a lot of effort in to make sure that the neuroscientists of the future are getting the higher education they need,” Yarger said. “We need to excel, and there is never a time like the present.”