Friday, August 26, 2011

Bill Johnson and Rob Kelly selected to participate in UVa's Academy of Teaching

August 25, 2011 — UVA Today by Anne E. Bromley 

English professor Stephen Arata received one of the first fellowships the University of Virginia's Teaching Resource Center offered in 1992, intended to create an interdisciplinary community focused on teaching.

Landscape architecture professor Elizabeth Meyer, another faculty member who became part of that community, went to the center for mentoring and has continued to be a mentor up to the present.

Now they are among a group of 37 experienced faculty members participating in the University Academy of Teaching, a new program of U.Va.'s Teaching Resource Center that aims to provide an arena for faculty to focus on the "big questions in teaching and learning," center director Marva Barnett said. The program will bring together master teachers who have already helped others reach a higher level of excellence, and who are interested in offering their expertise to colleagues across Grounds.

The inaugural group invited to join the academy includes faculty members who have given back to U.Va. either through Teaching Resource Center programs or within their schools or disciplines, and who are regarded as master teachers. Most have received University-wide teaching awards.

Barnett calls the group "change leaders," saying, "The academy formalizes contributions faculty members have been making in sharing their expertise in different ways."

The Academy of Teaching leverages this corps of master teachers to maintain and enhance the quality of the undergraduate experience through great teaching, providing opportunities for professional development even during financially austere times like these, she said.

U.Va.'s enrollment is growing at a time when the number of faculty has decreased, providing another reason to enhance the emphasis on teaching, associate director Judith Reagan said.

Hiring should soon pick up, according to a recent blog post by College of Arts & Sciences Dean Meredith Woo. Wayne Cozart, executive director of the Jefferson Trust – which backed the academy with a $49,000 grant – mentioned Woo's online discussion when he spoke at an Academy of Teaching reception Thursday.

Cozart and Milton Adams, interim executive vice president and provost, offered remarks as the academy and its new members were introduced.

The Jefferson Trust is an unrestricted endowment initiative of the Alumni Association that provides funding to University projects "with the intent of enhancing the University's margin of excellence," its website says. The Teaching Resource Center and the provost's office are also supporting the project.

"This is exactly the kind of program the Jefferson Trust wants to foster," Cozart said. For many alumni, the excellence of the faculty is the most important factor in their view of U.Va., he said.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

U.Va. Research Helps Explain How the Adult Brain Cleans Out Dead Cells and Produces New Ones

Adult brains generate thousands of new brain cells, called neurons, each day; however only a small fraction of them survive. The rest die and are consumed by scavenger cells called phagocytes. Until now, scientists have not fully understood how this process works, which phagocytes are unique in the brain and how the removal of dead neurons influences the production of new ones.

In humans, neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons, largely ceases in most areas of the brain during adulthood. However, evidence is strong that substantial numbers of new neurons are naturally generated in two parts of the brain: the hippocampus, which is involved in forming, organizing and storing memory; and the olfactory bulb, involved in the perception of odor.

Researchers at the University of Virginia Health System have made a pivotal discovery in understanding this complicated process, and their findings could one day help scientists devise novel therapies to promote neurogenesis in the adult brain. This could re-establish brain function in patients suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental disorders in which adult neurogenesis is impaired.

The findings appear in a study published online July 31 in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

The study was led by Jonathan Kipnis, associate professor of neuroscience, and Kodi S. Ravichandran, chair of the Department of Microbiology and director of the U.Va. Center for Cell Clearance. Zhenjie Lu, a senior research associate in the Department of Neuroscience, is the first author on this work and was instrumental in combining the methodologies in the Kipnis lab (which focuses on basic mechanisms underlying neurological disorders) and the Ravichandran lab (which focuses on cell clearance) to address adult neurogenesis through a combination of studies in normal and genetically altered mice, and studies using neuronal cultures.

Through their research, the scientists discovered that certain types of progenitor cells, called the doublecortin (DCX)-positive neuronal progenitors (or "newborn neurons"), serve a dual role in regulating production and elimination of new brain cells. Progenitor cells generally act as a repair system for the body, replenishing special cells and maintaining blood, skin and intestinal tissues. This new discovery points to the ability of these cells to clean each other out, which ultimately benefits the regeneration process.