New UM program to help with brain injuries

By Michael Newsom

University of Mississippi

OXFORD – Concussions and other head injuries, including those suffered by football players and military personnel in combat, have attracted widespread attention in recent years.

To help address these injuries, the University of Mississippi’s School of Education has launched a new Ph.D. program with a neuroscience component.

One of only three programs of its kind in the nation, the UM curriculum is designed to train professionals to help those with traumatic brain injuries recover better. The new special education doctoral program trains educators to use therapies that incorporate mathematics, language and other subjects to speed and improve recovery.

THURSTON

THURSTON

It has multiple components: one helps students learn how the brain works, while other sections of the curriculum deal with literacy, diversity and behaviors. Neurosciences are studied in all areas of the new program.

“We’re going to be able to really draw a lot of students nationally because of the Ph.D. with the neuroscience component,” said Roy J. Thurston, UM assistant professor of special education. “Some other universities have master’s degrees in neuroscience, but the only other doctorates I know of are at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Harvard University.”

Chancellor Dan Jones, who is a medical doctor, has been a leader in the movement to understand and prevent concussions in sports. In 2012, he was appointed to chair a Southeastern Conference working group on concussions.

“I am pleased that our faculty are providing leadership in the field of education, especially in the area of educating those with traumatic brain injury,” Jones said.

Thurston set up the UM program. His research is in cognitive rehabilitation of those with traumatic brain injuries and also in neuroscience applications to education.

“When people pursue this degree, they can go work not just in K-12 education systems; they can work in rehabilitation and also hospital situations,” Thurston said. “Because there are so many brain injuries now and the survival rate is huge compared to what it used to be, they really need cognitive rehabilitation. We look at how we’re going to get these people back to school, back to competitive employment, get their lives back together.”