$1.6 million grant to Williams College

07/06/04

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Award

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., July 7, 2004 The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has announced the award of a four-year grant of $1.6 million to Williams College. The award is part of a $606 million investment in undergraduate science by HHMI.

To help colleges meet the challenges of keeping up with emerging scientific fields, inspiring excellence in teaching, assisting interdisciplinary collaborations, and encouraging minority students to pursue careers in science, in this year alone, HHMI pledged $49.5 million in four-year grants, ranging from $500,000 to $1.6 million, to 42 baccalaureate and master's degree institutions in the United States and Puerto Rico.

"It is an honor to receive this award from The Howard Hughes Medical Institute," said Charles Lovett, director of the Williams College Science Center. "HHMI has contributed major advances in biology and medicine, enhanced science education, and provided notably to the understanding of our world. The award will provide Williams with so many excellent opportunities to encourage students, faculty, and community to engage in doing science."

Williams' award is one of the largest and will be used to accomplish a number of goals: "In particular," said Lovett, "the award will help the college break new ground in its longstanding commitment to interdisciplinary science programs, providing opportunities for minority groups traditionally under-represented in the sciences, and outreach to local schools."

"The grant promotes hands-on, investigative science for many people in and beyond our local community," said Wendy Raymond, associate professor of biology, who will serve as overall project director.

"Area residents may be surprised to learn that this award will support active science learning in the local elementary schools in Williamstown and North Adams, and fund research opportunities for students and faculty from Berkshire County high schools and from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA)," she said. "I feel like this grant is a huge umbrella with many people standing under it ready to have a lot of fun with biology and related sciences."

In addition, the new elementary school program will help teachers to integrate technology with teaching practices in biology and related fields. At the high school level, opportunities will be expanded for high school science teachers to use the resources at Williams College to develop their own laboratory exercises in biology, chemistry, and physics, and to provide opportunities for high school classes to participate in laboratory exercises at the college and local field sites.

Two student summer research programs at Williams College, previously funded by HHMI, will be continued student summer research at Williams and the Marine Biological Laboratory summer program. These programs will be expanded to include collaborations with MCLA in North Adams, Mass.; Bennett College, a historically African American women's college in Greensboro, N.C.; and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), an institution with a high proportion of Hispanic students, and with international scholars.

Another new initiative will center on preparing postdoctoral fellows for academic careers combining teaching and research. A second will enhance faculty development and promote collaborative research between Williams faculty and faculty from MCLA, Bennett, and UTSA. At Williams, participants will include the departments of biology, chemistry, psychology, computer science, mathematics and statistics, and physics, as will an emerging program in bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics, and established interdisciplinary programs in biochemistry and molecular biology, neuroscience and environmental studies.

These departments currently have 450 junior and senior majors and 53 students concentrating in the interdisciplinary program. More than 40 percent of Williams students major in the sciences (including psychology), and many continue on to top graduate programs. Cumulatively over the past 10 years, Williams has ranked first among liberal arts colleges in the number of NSF predoctoral fellowships awarded to its students. During the past decade Williams has ranked first among liberal arts colleges in the number of National Science Foundation grants to faculty.

HHMI invited 198 public and private baccalaureate and master's institutions to compete for the awards, which were granted based on the institution's ability and record for preparing students for graduate education in the sciences. Williams has received HHMI funding in 2000, 1996, 1993, and 1991.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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