News

Distinguished Davidson Neuroscientist Receives Further National Acclaim

by Bill Giduz
Julio Ramirez
Last summer Ramirez engaged 10 students in his lab representing Davidson and other area institutions. They were (standing l-r) Ana Pinheiro ’15, Malcolm Moses-Hampton ’12, Sarah Hamilton ’15, his son, Julian Ramirez, Brian Stocksdale ’14, Garret Smith ’13 and (seated, l-r) Emma Krause ’14, Nick Upright ’14, Julio Ramirez, Karen Monuszko ’15, and Horane Holgate (Johnson C. Smith University ’14).

The American Psychological Association (APA) has awarded its "Distinguished Career Contributions to Education and Training in Psychology Award" to Davidson College R. Stuart Dickson Professor of Psychology Julio Ramirez.

The award was recommended by a committee of the 134,000-member organization that reviewed nominations from around the country. Ramirez's nominators were impressed by his 30 years of active and engaged mentoring, his commitment to holding students to the highest standards, his advocacy of psychology and neuroscience, his role in developing undergraduate neuroscience education nationally, his inclusive and diversified laboratory, and his success in mentoring students to become professional scientists.

The award will be presented at the APA's 2014 convention in Washington, D.C. Ramirez will give an address on that occasion in the area of science education and mentorship, and will be acknowledged in a citation in the American Psychologist, the APA's flagship journal.

The latest award confirms again the high regard in which Ramirez is held on campus and throughout the scientific community. At Davidson's Commencement 2012 he received the college's top teaching honor, the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award.

Presidential Audience

Julio Ramirez
Ramirez received Davidson’s foremost teaching honor, The Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award, at Commencement 2012.

In January 2011 President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). President Obama met with Ramirez and the other PAESMEM Awardees in the Oval Office for a 30-minute discussion on science, science education and mentorship.

Also that year, he became the first-ever undergraduate educator to receive the annual Award for Education in Neuroscience from the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). The award recognizes one individual per year who has made outstanding contributions to neuroscience education and training. He is currently the co-director of the SfN Neuroscience Scholars Program and the chair of its Subcommittee on Mentoring.

The acclaim stems from Ramirez's promotion of a pedagogy of "terching"- teaching students by involving them in meaningful research projects. "That's the way you learn science," he said. "It's a lot like being a performing artist. How can a pianist call him- or herself a pianist without ever playing a piano? So how can you call undergraduates ‘scientists' if they only have experience with pre-packaged, time-worn lab exercises and don't conduct real science?"

Since joining the college faculty in 1986, Ramirez has mentored more than 135 students as research colleagues in investigating recovery of memory function through neuronal sprouting following brain injury. That research might yield insight into means of helping humans avoid or recover from Alzheimer's disease.

His work has resulted in dozens of articles in scientific journals, many of which were coauthored by his students. His efforts have been supported by major grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Early Career Awards

Julio Ramirez
Ramirez at a Davidson Research Initiative poster session with Malcolm Moses-Hampton ’12, who has served as Ramirez’s lab technician for the past two years.

His mentoring efforts were recognized as early in his career as 1989, when he was named North Carolina Professor of the Year and National Gold Medal Professor by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

In 1991 Ramirez co-founded the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN), an international organization committed to promoting and enhancing neuroscience education for undergraduate students. He was its founding president for three years and he co-founded, along with faculty colleague Barbara Lom, its flagship publication, Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education. Ramirez served as senior editor and Lom was the journal's editor-in-chief.

He facilitated a partnership between FUN and the NSF-supported science advocacy organization, Project Kaleidoscope, that enabled him to organize with his colleagues several national conferences. Those gatherings yielded a set of guidelines for curricula in the neurosciences, providing faculty with the tools to launch neuroscience programs at their own institutions, to create hands-on laboratory experiences for their students, and to create welcoming environments for students from diverse backgrounds. FUN presented him with its highest honor, the Career Achievement Award, in 2001.

Ramirez was a founding member of the psychology division of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), and that organization named him as one of two inaugural CUR Fellows in 2000.

Founder of Mentoring Program

In 2004 the NSF named him as one of eight recipients of its top teaching and research honor, the Director's Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. He used the accompanying grant from the NSF to establish a national mentoring program named "SOMAS" (Support of Mentors And their Students in the neurosciences). A later version of the program (SOMAS-URM) supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute focused on underrepresented groups in the neurosciences.

Ramirez also has been named as a Fellow of the APA, the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The designation at all three of these organizations recognizes outstanding and sustained contributions to the science of psychology and neuroscience through research, teaching and service.

Ramirez served in fall 2009 as one of 120 scientists invited by the APA to participate in a leadership conference about the future of scholarship dissemination. In addition, he served the APS by co-organizing its Festschrift for noted psychologist Donald Stein.

Ramirez founded Davidson's neuroscience program, and spearheaded its establishment as an academic concentration, emphasizing discovery-based learning from introductory courses through advanced study and theses. Through his own research grants, and institutional grants written with Davidson colleagues, Ramirez has raised more than $7 million dollars for research at the college. The college recognized his contributions to academic life in 1998 by naming him as its first R. Stuart Dickson Professor.