Nina Beltran capped an undergraduate degree milestone for The University of Texas at El Paso during last weekend’s 2019 Winter Commencement festivities.
When she walked across the stage during the first of four Commencement ceremonies in the Don Haskins Center, she became UTEP’s first graduation candidate to collect a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience.
The interdisciplinary bachelor of science degree, which is housed under the Department of Psychology, is the latest in a growing stable of interdisciplinary degrees offered by the University. It came to fruition through the collaborative efforts of Robert A. Kirken, Ph.D., dean of the College of Science; Denis O’Hearn, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts; the University Provost’s Office, and Eddie Castañeda, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Psychology.
“The bachelor of science in neuroscience combines the best of several worlds, in this case, basic science to look at the cellular and molecular level aspects of the brain and psychology to examine behavior, which together form the complex interactions of brain function” Kirken said.
“This is another example of how UTEP continues to increase access to innovative programs and provides excellence through the academic preparation our students receive, enabling them to apply to medical, dental or graduate school, or pursue careers in the fields of biomedical research or allied health science,” O’Hearn said.
For Beltran, the feat marks the culmination of efforts initiated after witnessing a family member struggle with epilepsy. Beltran’s curiosity about the condition led to forays into biology, chemistry, physics and psychology courses. Those distinct interests were supported by Katherine Serafine, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, who is one of the burgeoning program’s strongest advocates. Serafine directs UTEP’s Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory and worked closely with Beltran for three years.
“This is an interdisciplinary field of study and Nina is the perfect example of an interdisciplinary neuroscience student who took extensive coursework in biology, chemistry and psychology – and engaged in UTEP Edge activities including leading several experiments within the laboratory,” Serafine said. “She is truly a testament to UTEP’s mission of access and excellence.”
Beltran expressed gratitude for Serafine’s tutelage and lauded UTEP’s efforts to establish the new degree. She hopes to pursue her doctorate in pharmacology after graduation.
“I am truly honored to be the first graduate to represent the interdisciplinary bachelor of science degree in neuroscience,” Beltran said. “I am also thrilled that future students will now have this option to pursue this pathway in their undergraduate career to ultimately enhance future careers in related biomedical fields.”
O’Hearn said Beltran’s accomplishment opens doors not only for students but faculty members as well.
“We are excited about this new degree for many reasons,” O’Hearn said. “For the students, it provides a new combination of approaches from the sciences and the behavioral sciences, which should put them in a great position to move on, for example, to graduate programs or even to medical school. For our faculty, it is a new opportunity to create new alliances both in teaching and in research.”
Students interested in learning more about the bachelor of science in neuroscience can contact Bruce Cushing, Ph.D., chair and Larry P. Jones Distinguished Professor Department of Biological Science at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Darlene Barajas – UTEP Communications