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Robert J. Cowie

Position: Professor Department: Physical Therapy

Contact Info

Office: 331 FL Atkins Building Phone: 336-750-2195 Fax: 336-750-2192


Robert J. Cowie joined the MPT Program as an Associate Professor in 2000, teaching Gross Anatomy, Embryology and Neuroscience to the first class of graduate students ever to matriculate at WSSU. Dr. Cowie expanded his teaching to include introductory research and portions of the Lifespan courses and was promoted to tenured Professor in 2003. He served as Interim Chair of the PT Department from July 2004 to May 2006. He received undergraduate, Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN. Dr. Cowie subsequently held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences where he taught neuroscience and published studies on the brainstem neural networks of the vestibular, auditory and oculomotor systems. For 15 years prior to coming to WSSU, Dr. Cowie taught medical, dental, and graduate students at Howard University School of Medicine in Washington, DC. During the same time, he investigated the mechanisms of the neural control of eye and head movements at the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research, National Eye Institute, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. He is a Viet Nam veteran with experience as a U.S. Navy Corpsman, Licensed Nurse, Ambulance attendant, gymnast, and is a life-long runner. He is blessed with an outgoing, caring wife, two lovely and talented daughters, three robustly active grandsons, and a beautiful granddaughter who is as dramatic as she is exquisitely curious.

Educational Background

  • BS, Biology & Philosophy, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN
  • MS, Biology & Philosophy of Science, East Tennessee State University
  • PhD, Biomedical Science (Anatomy), Quillen School of Medicine, East Tennessee State University

Research and Project Interests

Dr. Cowie has used classical and modern anatomical tracing and neurophysiological recording and stimulation techniques to study the neural basis of a series of orientation behaviors in mammals including awake primates. These studies primarily involved the brainstem systems that control the movements of the eyes, head, ears, neck and body during reflexive responses to novel or important stimuli. Additionally, he has characterized some of the neural mechanisms that underlie the cardiovascular and emotional changes that are essential to enable these orientation responses. Since coming to WSSU he has directed student projects that investigate the maintenance of postural stability using computerized dynamic posturography. This involves assessment of the roles of the visual, proprioceptive, and vestibular sensory systems that control the musculoskeletal system under a variety of environmental or cognitive conditions, or at various ages during the life-span.