Neuroscience Society Honors UTEP Professor with Education Award
Last Updated on November 11, 2021 at 1:00 PM
Originally published November 11, 2021
By MC Staff
UTEP Marketing and Communications
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) recently announced its selection of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Arshad M. Khan, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, as one of its two 2021 Award for Education in Neuroscience recipients.
The group, which is the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and the nervous system, recognized Khan virtually during the SfN Science Education and Outreach Awards celebration, which is part of its annual meeting Nov. 8-11, 2021. This year marks the organization’s 50th anniversary.
Barry Everitt, Sc.D., president of SfN, said this prestigious honor “recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to neuroscience education and training.”
Robert A. Kirken, Ph.D., dean of the College of Science, said Khan has significantly advanced UTEP’s work in the field of neuroscience.
"(Khan’s) work has the potential to dramatically change how we approach neuroanatomical challenges to ultimately improve people's lives,” Kirken said. “He has also worked to provide students with research opportunities that allow them to contribute meaningful brain mapping datasets for published projects.”
Khan has focused his research on mapping brain circuits involved in the control of motivated behaviors such as feeding and drinking, and the regulation of metabolic function, such as the sensing of blood glucose levels. His research team utilizes state-of-the-art tools to study these circuits as well as more traditional methods of neuroanatomical mapping that remain gold standards in the field, but which are increasingly in danger of becoming “lost arts.” A major strategy of his research has been to train as many students as possible on these methods to ensure their preservation and widespread dissemination.
He has mentored 86 undergraduate students and 15 graduate students in his Systems Neuroscience Lab since joining the UTEP faculty in 2011. He helped secure a $2.4 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to develop the “Program to Educate and Retain Students in STEM Tracks” (PERSIST). Within PERSIST, he created Brain Mapping and Connectomics, a laboratory course that provides first-year students with the opportunity to engage in authentic neuroanatomical research. Of the more than 100 students enrolled in the course since its inception in 2014, nearly a dozen have continued on to graduate school, medical school, or other professional programs.
One of those students was Diana Sotelo, who, shortly after graduating from UTEP in May 2021, secured a competitive post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award from the National Institutes of Health, where she now assists with human brain imaging studies of patients being treated for opioid use disorder.
“Before PERSIST, I never envisioned a career in research, but afterward, I cannot imagine a career without it,” she said.
Khan said he was grateful to his fellow colleagues in the Society for their nomination and to the SfN Selection Committee for this award because he saw it as a celebration of success stories such as Sotelo’s.
“It shows how much the Society values educating talented students like Diana, who, when introduced early in their education to meaningful research opportunities, go on to pursue successful scientific careers,” said Khan, who called the award a team victory. “This would not have been possible without the tremendous help of numerous faculty and graduate students at UTEP, who shared the workload of grant writing, teaching, evaluation and dissemination to create and sustain this research course.”
Apart from teaching the brain mapping lab course, Khan teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses in behavior and in systems neuroscience, and currently directs UTEP’s neuroscience baccalaureate degree program. He also promotes neuroscience education internationally and has lectured for the International Brain Research Organization in Morocco, and welcomes international scientists and their trainees into his lab to learn methodology and techniques.
The first recipient of the Award for Education in Neuroscience was Oliver W. Sacks, M.D., the British neurologist and acclaimed writer whose experiences provided the basis for the 1990 Oscar-nominated film “Awakenings,” which starred Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.