The School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry faced the unexpected but pleasant challenge of turning a substantial gift into something that will have a true impact. The donor had only two conditions: spend the money within three years and "take the department to the next level."

Though the first requirement was unambiguous, the second demanded real consideration. After numerous discussions, both within the Department of Psychiatry and with Albuquerque community leaders, the Institute for the Development of Education and Sciences – IDEAS – in Psychiatry was born.

Based on the principle that education is power, the institute initially focused on bringing the best and brightest scientists and educators to UNM to spend up to a week working with department faculty, fellows and residents. With this foundation, Samuel Keith, then chair of the Department of Psychiatry, asked, "Why stop there? Can we do more?"

The "We Need to Talk" public lecture series is one answer to those questions. In its first year, the free series featured Robert Michels, former dean of Cornell Medical School; bestselling author Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; internationally renowned forensic psychiatric consultant Phillip Resnick; and David Ames, director, Australian Institute on Aging.

The 2011-12 season kicks off in Tuesday, Oct. 4 with Mark Vonnegut – Kurt Vonnegut's son – speaking about "Art as a Way to Get Out of a Bad Place" at the UNM Continuing Education auditorium, 6:30 p.m. In November, Bennett Leventhal will explore autism spectrum disorders. Other presenters will discuss depression, creativity and the blues, the latest research on alcohol addiction in teens, finding meaning at the end of life, and more.

Almost all 15 IDEAS speakers will present grand rounds. Located in Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education auditorium, these academic lectures are open to the public. IDEAS also hosts "Let's Keep Talking," a more intimate event that shines additional light on a subject discussed during the public lecture series. There is a speaker's bureau and plans are underway to start a lunch time "Just the Facts" series.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for our university community and for Albuquerque," Keith said. "I hope everyone will visit our Web site to see the scope and depth of our speakers' knowledge and will take advantage of the fact that these extraordinary individuals are coming to our city for us to meet and to learn from."

For a complete schedule, visit IDEASinPsychiatry.unm.edu.

Story by Pari Noskin