OXFORD, Miss. – Former football players and soldiers, as well as neuroscience experts, are set to participate in a conference next month at the University of Mississippi, which has a groundbreaking Ph.D. program to train education professionals to help speed recovery from traumatic brain injuries.
In 2014, the UM School of Education launched a doctoral program in special education with a curriculum that includes courses in Cognitive Neuroscience, the Learning Brain and the Mind. Drawing on the resources of this program, the university will bring experts to the Oxford Conference Center Oct. 19-20 for “Neuroscience and Learning: Healing the Injured Brain.”
Roy J. Thurston, UM assistant professor of special education whose research focuses on neuroscience and cognition, organized the conference, which is expected to attract professionals from the fields of health care, pharmacy, research, academia and education.
“We want to explore the impact injuries such as concussions have on memory, learning and a person’s ability to reintegrate back into the classroom, athletics, career and society as a whole,” Thurston said. “This conference will show how an interdisciplinary approach to these issues is being met by researchers, and how it can benefit survivors, families, educators and medical and athletics professionals.”
Concussions and other head injuries, including those suffered by football players and military personnel in combat, have attracted widespread attention in recent years and have challenged medicine and science professionals to find answers. The conference will offer opportunities to hear about the experiences of those who were injured both in sports and combat and who have struggled to recover from traumatic brain injuries, or TBI.
Dr. Esther Sternberg, director of research at the University of Arizona, is the conference’s keynote speaker. She is the author of “Healing Spaces: The Science and Place of Well Being,” which explores the idea of how distractions and distortions around a person, including colors and sounds, could shake up the brain’s healing chemistry, and whether surroundings have healing powers.
The agenda also includes discussions on the effects of lighting on classrooms, the future of neuroscience, cognition and injury, and neuropsychology therapy.
Thurston will discuss memory and learning and talk about his research, as well as how UM is training professionals to help victims of TBI recover. The conference is made possible by a generous donation from Dr. Carl Lindgren, of Courtland.
The special education doctoral program 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.
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 program trains educators to use therapies that incorporate mathematics, language and other subjects to speed and improve recovery.
Thurston’s research is in cognitive rehabilitation of people with traumatic brain injuries and also in neuroscience applications to education. He previously worked in Canadian hospitals, where he tested patients with brain injuries, looking at how they performed in math, language and other subjects. Those tests and therapies helped patients exercise their brains, which sped up their recovery, he said.
“The more you socialize with the people, the faster you heal,” Thurston said. “Experts are doing clinical studies. They don’t understand it physiologically, but we would see people come into our classroom and as soon as they got to talk and interact with each other and help each other with tasks, their mood affect would go up. They would also heal faster and set goals for themselves and they weren’t depressed all the time.”
Students who pursue the UM doctorate can work in a variety of settings, including K-12 education, rehabilitation systems and hospital environments.
The university’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and schools of Medicine, Pharmacy and Education are helping with the conference, along with Dr. Michael Lehman, head of neuroscience at the UM Medical Center.
David D. Allen, UM pharmacy dean, said he is “very excited about this conference and the opportunity to have three schools at Ole Miss working together.”
David Rock, dean of the School of Education, expressed thanks to Lindgren’s support, as well as the support of other university departments and schools.
“This is an exciting opportunity for professionals in the areas of education and medicine to share, collaborate and learn from experts in the field,” Rock said. “We hope this event will grow to become a nationally recognized conference in neuroscience and education.”
Registration is $50 for the general public and $25 for students. Continuing education credits are available for attendees. For more information or to register for the conference, visit this link.