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MEET OUR STUDENTS: Travis Dumais: Budding Neuroscientist and Researcher



Sophomore Travis Dumais is “a brilliant kid,” “an extraordinary student,” one who is “curious about everything” and “able to absorb information at unbelievable speeds and problem-solve even faster,” according to RIC faculty and administrators.

His major is psychology, with a minor in neuroscience, which is why it’s hard to imagine that back in North Smithfield High School his single aspiration was to become a rock star. He said he would forego homework to hold jam sessions in the basement. “I was trying to be Jimmy Page, basically,” he said. “But I’m going to sell all my music stuff. Do you know anyone who wants to buy an amplifier and four guitars?”

Dumais is also an avid reader, writer, jogger, meditator, photographer and self-proclaimed stand-up comedian, which he makes use of in his part-time job as campus tour guide for the Office of Admissions. “I like to make people laugh. I’ve been known to go in my backyard in my underwear, wielding a fake sword, pretending to be a Jedi Knight.”

And of course, he is a budding neuroscientist and researcher, but he prefers to keep it simple when describing what he does. “Neuroscience,” he said, “is figuring out the function of each part of the brain and how to repair the parts when they’re broken. The part of the brain I’m most interested in is the part that allows you to sense other people’s emotions. There are people who have reduced functioning in that area of the brain, such as people with autism. I’m interested in researching ways to treat this.”

This summer, he asked to join the research fellowship team led by Steven Threlkeld, assistant professor of psychology, to study the effects of a protein to treat brain injuries in infants. He is also working on an independent honors thesis with mentor David Sugarman, professor of psychology, focused on morality and religion.

“My thoughts are usually going a mile a minute, and I tend to skip around from one thing to the next,” said Dumais. “I had a bazillion different ideas about what I wanted to do for my honors project, and each week I’d go to Dr. Sugarman’s office with a different idea. I think his patience is unparalleled. Dave would direct me in subtle ways each week until I finally narrowed down my topic and arrived where I needed to be. I learn more in an hour talking with Dave than a lot of people learn in one year just living their lives.”

Through Threlkeld, Dumais said, he has learned a great deal about neuroscience and the scientific method. “I’ve held a brain in my hands for the first time, I attended a conference with hundreds of other students and presented my work, I helped discover a possible treatment for a brain injury that affects thousands of babies every year. Honestly, the thing I like most about RIC is the faculty. If it weren’t for great professors like Steve and Dave, college would just be a bunch of fancy buildings and grass.”

For more on Dumais, listen to what he considers to be “A Must-Take Course at RIC.”