EMU’s research on neurobehavioral health gets a boost from a donor

The Center for the Advancement of Neurobehavioral Health new space at Jefferson Science Center.

YPSILANTI — On the first floor of Mark Jefferson Science sits a state-of-the-art research center, where students, faculty, and guest experts can collaborate and meet to discuss the latest research in neurobehavioral health. The room has computer stations, multiple levels of seating, plenty of whiteboard space, and the latest multimedia equipment to facilitate video meetings across time zones. 

It’s all part of the Center for the Advancement of Neurobehavioral Health (CANH). In 2020, the Department of Psychology at EMU created the interdisciplinary Center to support research around the prevention, assessment, and treatment available to people dealing with psychological, cognitive, and medical challenges. 

Alexandros Maragakis, Director of the Center and visiting scholar in the Psychology Department, explains that the neurobehavioral health umbrella is large, including everything from autism to dementia and covering issues from birth to death.

The Center for the Advancement of Neurobehavioral Health was renamed to honor EMU alumnus Robert Thomson for his generous endowment to the research center in 2021.

A Game-Changing Endowment

CANH was renamed the Robert Thomson Center for the Advancement of Neurobehavioral Health to honor Robert Thomson, a generous benefactor who gave a $100,000 endowment to the research center in 2021. Mr. Thomson, or Bob, is an EMU alum who was looking for a way to give back to the University. 

“Bob is interested in helping people who have more severe mental challenges,” explained Natalie Dove, interim Psychology Department Head. Thomson’s interests fit well within the Center’s mission statement of promoting research, training, and clinical service delivery for people of all ages and stages of life.

Thomson’s donation was a “game changer,” says Maragakis. The gift allowed the Center to have a dedicated research space with high-tech equipment, a space to hold seminars and training, and a place for students and faculty to collaborate and problem-solve. 

“You can’t underestimate the effect the space has,” says Dove. “This space sets up the environment we want, which is collaborative, fostering dynamic learning and empirical research ideas.” 

Beyond the buzzing of ideas and problem-solving, the space is also perfect for networking and additional training opportunities. “We’re starting some gatherings that will be meeting here in the fall for students to engage in networking opportunities with other students, community members, and faculty they may not already know. These opportunities will allow students to be further socialized as clinicians, colleagues, and researchers,” says Dove, adding that these collegial experiences are important to graduate students. 

The main goal of the Center is student-focused, says Maragakis.  “We want to train our students to be good researchers, good service providers, so they can go on and continue this work and research, or go into the community and provide really high-quality service.”

Dove agrees, adding that the Center adds another layer of training for EMU graduate students. “As our students graduate from one of our programs with this training under their belts, their impact is limitless—our students are going everywhere,” she says, adding that they take their training and knowledge with them to new communities. 

Inspiring New Research

Thomson’s gift brought an air of excitement to the Center. “People are paying attention to what we’re doing,” Maragakis says. “More students are interested, faculty are energized and people are feeling a lot of pride that somebody looked at our work and said, ‘I want to invest in you.’ To me, that’s a big deal.”

The Center continues to grow and is focused on making an impact on campus and beyond. “The big thing that we would like to continue is pulling in federal grants that are focused on improving neurobehavioral health across the lifespan, and developing evidence-based treatments to really help the community,” says Maragakis. 

In the 2022-23 academic year, faculty members launched multi-year research projects that are a part of the Robert Thomson Center for the Advancement of Neurobehavioral Health. These faculty include:

  • Alexandros Maragakis- Director and Visiting Scholar, Psychology
  • Jin Bo- Professor, Psychology, Health Sciences, and Neuroscience
  • Adam Briggs- Associate Professor, Psychology
  • Claudia Drossel- Associate Professor, Psychology
  • Naomi Hashimoto- Associate Professor, Special Education and Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Heather L. Hutchins-Wiese- Professor, Health Sciences
  • Renee Lajiness-O'Neil- Professor, Psychology
  • Jamie Lawler- Associate Professor, Psychology
  • Angela D. Staples- Associate Professor, Psychology
  • Tom Waltz- Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience

Maragakis says as the Center grows, he hopes to attract a larger pool of faculty members and students to increase interdisciplinary collaboration. “That way those interdisciplinary teams can go out and pinpoint community partners that would benefit from what CANH has to offer.”

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 14,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU Today.

November 15, 2023

Written by:
Sarah Derouin

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher