Marking a significant moment in American University’s history, Professor Terry Davidson was installed as the Trone Family Eminent Scholar Chair in Neuroscience and Behavior on Tuesday, November 30.
The first eminent scholar chair at AU, the position is made possible by a $5 million gift from AU Board of Trustees member Congressman David Trone and his wife, June, through the David and June Trone Family Foundation. As one of the highest honors a professor can achieve, endowed chairs help expand capacity for faculty who excel as researchers and scholar-teachers as they advance solutions to real-world challenges.
A distinguished professor of neuroscience, chair of AU’s Department of Neuroscience, and director of AU’s Center for Neuroscience and Behavior, Davidson leads groundbreaking research poised to transform our understanding of and approach to treating addiction and other cognitive disorders. His team’s cross-disciplinary research on the influence of diet and susceptibility to addiction addresses a root cause of drug abuse by linking both drug abuse and overeating to cognitive, rather than motivational, control impairments.
Guests gathered in the Gary and Pennie Abramson Discovery Hall in AU’s Hall of Science for Davidson's installation ceremony and inaugural lecture. Attendees included university leaders, members of the Board of Trustees, and students from Davidson’s research lab. Interim College of Arts and Sciences Dean Max Paul Friedman opened the event.
“We are grateful to the Trones for establishing this remarkable position, which accelerates AU’s leading-edge scientific work in understanding the relationship between the brain, behavior, and disease,” he said.
Both AU President Sylvia Burwell and Congressman Trone offered remarks at the event.
“Endowed faculty chairs provide continuity and vision for our research,” said President Burwell. “They provide an anchor of expertise that helps retain talent. They are vital to our ability to attract creative minds—both students and faculty.”
Scholarly research is a critical element of the Changemakers for a Changing World strategic plan and Change Can’t Wait: The Campaign for American University. The Trones’ gift to establish an eminent scholar chair helps advance AU’s goal to generate knowledge that impacts and shapes our world.
Congressman Trone remarked that many see addiction as a moral failing. He shared, “Professor Davidson’s work…will help break the stigma that holds us back on true movement and legislation on addiction and mental health.”
Congressman Trone also discussed his work in Congress to advance policies that address the addiction and mental health epidemics. He noted that the most effective policy solutions to address these crises will be informed by the work of experts like Davidson. “Before we can create effective policies, we need research, we need science, to back it up. That’s why investments in neuroscience and behavioral research are so critical. We need people like [Davidson] who will invest time and energy into fighting these crises through scientific research. We need institutions like American University, which works around the clock to find cutting-edge solutions to our communities’ greatest challenges. This is how we create policies that change lives.”
As part of the formal installation ceremony, Provost Peter Starr provided an overview of Davidson’s career and achievements.
“We are proud to call such a respected and distinguished researcher as Dr. Davidson our AU colleague and an embodiment of our scholar-teacher model, whereby faculty engage students in their research and actively incorporate it into their teaching,” said Provost Starr. “His pioneering work attracts prospective students at all levels, who are eager to join him as he shapes the future of this important area of research and our world.”
After the official installation, Davidson delivered the inaugural lecture as chairholder, a tradition of installation ceremonies. He cited three reasons why “change can’t wait” when it comes to his research: record-high obesity rates, record-high drug overdose rates—more than 100,000 deaths in the US this year—and the number of people diagnosed with dementia is projected to double by 2050 (according to the latest data from the CDC).
“New conceptualizations are needed to address these threats,” Davidson said. A long-range goal of his work is to break “the vicious cycle” that enables the Western diet and drugs of abuse to promote obesity, addiction, and cognitive decline.
Davidson commended his colleagues in the Department of Neuroscience and recognized them as part of his inspiration and success. He shared that the publications of the department’s seven members have been cited in papers by other national and international scientists more than 35,000 times. “I’m so proud to be a part of this group,” he said.
He also recognized the Trone family for their generosity in establishing the chair and for supporting the pathbreaking work that takes place in the Hall of Science.
“I thank you for your foresight in supporting the continued development of neuroscience and, by extension, all sciences at American University,” he said. “I will do all I can to honor your contribution and your name.”