History of Neuroscience at URI

For several years various faculty at URI expressed an interest in creating a neuroscience academic program. From these efforts, in 2009 a small group of URI faculty and Nasser Zawia (Pharmacy, Dean of the Graduate School) formed a Steering Committee to explore the development of a neuroscience program at URI.

This steering committee was Chaired by Dean Zawia and later became the Executive Committee once the INP was approved by the Board of Governors. Members of the committee included Professors Gabriele Kass-Simon (Biology), Linda Hufnagel (Biology), Lisa Weyandt (Psychology) Dave Worthen (Pharmacy), Walt Besio (Biomedical and Electrical Engineering) and Stephanie Guertin (Biology student).  New members soon joined the committee, including Leslie Mahler (Communications Disorders) and Jodi Camberg (Cell and Molecular Biology), who replaced Gabriele Kass-Simon at the end of her term. Dave Worthen left the Committee and Alycia Mosely Austin, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School joined the committee in 2010.

The Executive Committee determined that members of  the committee would be appointed by the respective deans of each college for a three year term.  

While still in the formative stages of the INP, the Curriculum Committee, chaired by Gabriele Kass-Simon, with members, Dave Worthen, Linda Hufnagel, Leslie Mahler, Lisa Weyandt, and Stephanie Guertin, developed the course content and design of the Ph.D. and master’s program for the INP. A formal proposal for an Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program was presented and approved by the Council of Deans and Rhode Island Board of Governors and the INP graduate program was officially launched in 2011.

Professor Leslie Mahler became the Director of the INP in 2017 until 2020, with Alycia Mosely Austin serving as the Assistant Director. During this time Provost Donald DeHayes created a task force to explore the creation of an undergraduate neuroscience program consisting of the INP Director, Assistant Director, and Professors Walt Besio, Jodi Camberg, Kathy Quinlan, David Rowley, and Lisa Weyandt. The task force developed the curriculum for the undergraduate program with three specialty tracks (cell and molecular neuroscience, clinical neuroscience, and neuropharmacology), hence the creation of the freestanding undergraduate program across three Colleges (CELS, CHS, COP).

In 2010-2011, Thomas Ryan approached the URI President regarding funding he would like to invest in neuroscience, earmarked for Alzheimer’s Disease. Dean Zawia, in collaboration with the INP Executive Committee, was asked to develop a proposal for an institute for neuroscience with the primary focus on Alzheimer’s Disease. The URI administration worked closely with the donor to create the George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience (GARIN), in honor of the donor’s parents. Dean Zawia was then asked to Chair the Search committee for a Director for the GARIN. Several members of the INP Executive Committee served on the search committee for the GARIN Director and subsequent faculty cluster hires and subsequent GARIN Director searches, including Professors Besio, Camberg, Mahler, and Weyandt. While the INP and GARIN have a collaborative relationship (e.g., most GARIN faculty are INP members, GARIN faculty are often eligible to mentor INP graduate and undergraduate students) the GARIN is a separate entity from the INP and is not part of the academic neuroscience program. It is important for branding and clarity that the distinctive roles of the INP and GARIN be accurately represented at URI and the external community.

After Leslie Mahler’s three-year term as Director, Lisa Weyandt was elected as Director in 2020 and was re-elected in 2023 to serve a second, three-year term. The INP Administrative Assistant was hired for 15 hours per week in 2020 and full time in 2021. Alycia left URI in 2020 and her position was replaced with an INP Coordinator in the spring of 2021. The undergraduate program was formally launched fall semester, 2020. To date, the INP has grown from the original handful of faculty, to ~40 core and one affiliate faculty members spanning across 5 colleges.