MISSOULA – The Montana Board of Regents on March 7 approved a proposal by the University of Montana to open the Neural Injury Center, empowering students with traumatic brain injury and other neural injuries to access support and services from departments and colleges across campus.
The NIC is not a physical space as yet, but rather a collaborative of expertise on campus and an extension of UM’s ongoing, interdisciplinary Brain Initiative. Faculty members and researchers from the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, College of Visual and Performing Arts, Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, and College of Humanities and Sciences are working together to approach neural injury holistically.
“Our first initiative is to improve student success, but far more importantly it’s about improving the quality of their lives and the lives of their families,” said Reed Humphrey, UM professor and chair of the UM School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science.
While the Brain Initiative drives the purpose, the NIC provides the form and function that will allow students to find support. For example, already in the works is an interactive Web presence supported by the UM VETS Office and the School of Media Arts.
This presence will allow currently enrolled students and other veterans to explore their options for support and services on campus. That first contact with departments and faculty members also provides a valuable resource to students who may not know where to start looking in the community for medical and psychological treatment options.
Humphrey said reaching the veteran community is especially important for the NIC because veterans make up a significant portion of students who have suffered unique brain injuries. And in the wake of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these injuries that occurred during deployment need to be studied and addressed.
“We hope to attract veterans from the region who are looking to engage a college education, and I’d like to think they’ll come to UM because we have an environment that welcomes them and also provides them the support they need to be successful as students,” he said.
Aside from connecting students with assistance and support, the NIC also will bolster interprofessional training opportunities for other UM students looking to gain experience assisting people who are living with neural injuries.
Students from several majors already work in practicum and research in labs, the UM Physical Therapy Clinic and other spaces on campus and in the community. A major emphasis within the NIC is a basic, translational research component that focuses on understanding mechanisms of injury and the development of intervening therapies.
“The approval of this center provides another foundational piece of UM’s continuing focus on the brain, and significantly it will involve the talents and passion of faculty and students in multiple departments across campus,” said Perry Brown, UM provost and vice president for academic affairs. “It will deal with an increasingly important issue, especially for veterans, and assist people with traumatic brain injury to move forward in education, work and life.”