College of Science names Michelle Olsen as new director of the School of Neuroscience
Olsen was recruited into the newly established School of Neuroscience in 2016 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. There, she had established a National Institutes of Health-funded research program studying astrocytes, the second-most abundant brain cell type.
As one of the first faculty in Virginia Tech's School of Neuroscience, Olsen’s role included developing the neuroscience Ph.D. program and stewarding the program through university governance and State Council for Higher Education for Virginia review. Approved by the Board of Visitors in summer 2020, the neuroscience doctoral program is now recruiting its fourth cohort of students. Most recently, Olsen has led the development of the Alliance for Neurodevelopment Research, a strategic growth and investment opportunity for the College of Science.
“Michelle has been a key faculty member in the School of Neuroscience since she arrived at Virginia Tech,” said Kevin Pitts, dean of the College of Science. “In addition to a distinguished track record in research, education, and service, her experience and dedication to the success of the School of Neuroscience — to its faculty, staff, and students — will serve her well in this new role.”
The School of Neuroscience has grown tremendously since it was established in 2015. The school currently has more than 840 undergraduate students in four majors and 22 neuroscience Ph.D. students, as well as master’s and doctoral students from other university programs pursuing their degrees in neuroscience laboratories. It has 23 tenure track collegiate faculty and instructors and more than 25 administrative, advising, and research support staff. The School of Neuroscience awarded 215 bachelor’s degrees in 2022.
Olsen received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern Oregon in 1999 and her Ph.D. in neurobiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2005. As a cellular and molecular neuroscientist, Olsen focuses the research in her laboratory on the role of astrocytes in healthy brain development and aging and alterations in astrocyte function that contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Since starting her research program in late 2010, Olsen has garnered more than $18 million to support her research and in collaborative studies. She is currently funded by the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute of Heart, Lung, and Blood and has several active collaborations within and external to Virginia Tech.
Olsen has also held many external professional roles since arriving at Virginia Tech, including serving as standing member of National Institutes of Health grant proposal reviews and proposal reviewer for national nonprofit foundations and European health organizations within France and the United Kingdom. She also serves on the advisory council for the CURE Epilepsy Research Program and in an editorial capacity for Wiley and Frontiers scientific journals.
“I came to Virginia Tech at the start of the School of Neuroscience,” Olsen said. “I was attracted by the energy and enthusiasm for growing our wildly successful undergraduate program, for working to develop our Ph.D. program, and to help recruit and work alongside a strong cohort of creative and innovative neuroscience faculty. I am so honored to have the opportunity to work with our faculty, students, and staff to create community, to work to train tomorrow’s neuroscience leaders, and to grow and strengthen this nationally recognized program.”