Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute Appoints New Director
Biology, neuroscience professor James A. Hewett brings three decades' experience to position
James A. Hewett, associate professor of biology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), is the newest director of the Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute (FNSSI). He succeeds Kevin Sweder, professor of forensic science, who is retiring from the University.
“I am truly honored to follow in the footsteps of Kevin, who leaves as his legacy a thriving institute,” says Hewett, an A&S faculty member since 2011.
Karin Ruhlandt, dean of A&S and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, says Hewett is uniquely qualified to lead FNSSI going forward: “His dedication to teaching and scientific discovery underscores the University’s commitment to world-class academic and research excellence.”
Hewett brings nearly three decades of academic, research and leadership experience to the directorial position. At Syracuse, he teaches Principles in Human Toxicology, an advanced course he has established for graduate and undergraduate students in biology and forensic science. He also is a dissertation research advisor to two Ph.D. students in biology who are pursuing a concentration in neuroscience and has served as co-director of the Biology Graduate Studies Program.
Equally committed to undergraduate success, Hewett oversees numerous independent research projects in his biology lab in the Life Sciences Complex. He has mentored more than 20 Syracuse undergraduates, several of whom have matriculated into prestigious M.D. and Ph.D. programs.
Hewett is no stranger to high-profile research. For nearly two decades, he has maintained a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded biomedical research laboratory, the results of which were the subject of a recent cover story in the prestigious journal Neuroscience (Elsevier, 2018). Earlier this year, NIH awarded him and his longtime collaborator, Sandra Hewett, the Beverly Petterson Bishop Professor of Neuroscience and professor of biology, a five-year, $1.7-million grant to study the origins of brain disorders.
Much of Hewett’s research is genetic and pharmacological in approach, focusing on the molecular and cellular mechanisms that perpetuate brain dysfunction and injury. He is fluent in the study of neuromodulators, which are chemical messengers that control various physical and psychological functions in the body, and seeks to understand the causes of epilepsy and the death of neurons in other maladies of the brain, such as stroke.
Hewett also studies neurotoxicology (i.e., the interrelationship between environmental contaminants and human health problems), as evidenced by his pioneering work with Katharine Lewis, professor of biology in A&S; Frank Middleton, associate professor of neuroscience and physiology at SUNY Upstate Medical University; and John Hassett, professor of chemistry at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Hewett previously belonged to the faculty of the University of Connecticut Health Center, where he established his own research initiative, taught and advised Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students, and served as associate director and then director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program. Prior to that, Hewett performed a three-year research fellowship in molecular immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He earned a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University.
Founded by A&S in 2011, FNSSI is a nationally renowned interdisciplinary training and scientific research program. The institute contains affiliated faculty from across campus, as well as a team of adjunct professionals from throughout Central New York, including members of Onondaga County’s Wallie Howard Jr. Center for Forensic Sciences, the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Wyoming County coroner’s office. FNSSI faculty perform cutting-edge research in relevant topics in the field, in addition to teaching in the Integrated Learning Major in Forensic Science and in several master’s degree tracks.
“I look forward to working with the many individuals who have made FNSSI a success story,” Hewett says. “I pledge to build on this foundation of excellence, while advancing Syracuse’s standing as a student-focused, international research university.”