HHMI awards $86.4 million for undergraduate science education

Helping students compete in the new world of science

Biology is evolving rapidly, with more and more discoveries arising from interaction with other disciplines such as chemistry, mathematics and computer science. Undergraduate biology education is having a hard time keeping up. To address this challenge, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is investing $86.4 million in bold and innovative science education programs at research universities across the country.

HHMI -- the nation's largest private supporter of science education -- continues to strengthen and enrich undergraduate science teaching at research universities with the new grants, which range from $1.5 million to $2.2 million. They will support programs at 50 universities in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The universities selected include six that have never before received an HHMI undergraduate science education grant: Georgia State University, New Mexico State University, the University of California, Riverside; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Florida; and Virginia Commonwealth University.

"We believe it is vital to bring fresh perspectives to the teaching of established scientific disciplines and to develop novel courses in emerging areas, such as computational biology, genomics and bio-imaging, said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. "Our grantee universities are providing hands-on research experiences to help prepare undergraduates, including women and minorities underrepresented in the sciences, for graduate studies and for careers in biomedical research, medicine and science education. We also hope these grants will help the universities increase the science literacy of their students, including non-science majors."

Some of the newly funded programs will develop courses that reflect the interdisciplinary nature of scientific research today, melding computational and physical sciences and engineering with the life sciences. Others aim to hone the teaching and mentoring skills of present and future scientists. A key goal is to attract and retain minorities who have been traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. Another is to reach out into the high schools and middle schools to engage and prepare future science majors. Science literacy -- preparing non-science majors to understand the complex scientific issues that affect their lives -- is another objective.

For example:

  • Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, is creating a program that will give postdoctoral fellows instruction and experience in how to teach science. The Hughes Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowships will provide mentored research and teaching experience. Fellows in the two-year program will teach three courses. A one-year pilot program developed through Dartmouth's Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) will support the development of the Fellows' teaching skills. In the final two years of the grant, DCAL's teaching program will be open to all Dartmouth postdoctoral fellows.
  • East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, plans to integrate mathematics and biology -- fields in which specialists traditionally work at arm's length from one another -- to encourage students to approach biological questions as research scientists address them. One ambitious goal for the project is to retool the math and biology faculty so that they become literate in each other's discipline.
  • Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, will develop a series of activities to attract and retain young students in the sciences, including Native Americans, who are among the most severely underrepresented in scientific fields. At the center of these activities is the Montana Apprenticeship Program -- funded by an earlier HHMI grant -- that has enabled a significant number of women and underrepresented minority students to live on campus during the summer, while they take science classes and participate in research with faculty members.
  • North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, will develop a new introductory biology course for non-science majors. Based on hands-on experiments and problem-solving, the course will focus on timely, multidisciplinary scientific issues, such as genetic engineering, evolution and cloning. The university expects the course to provide up to 1,000 students annually with an understanding of the scientific method and the relevance of science to their lives.
  • Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, created a new molecular biology laboratory with an earlier HHMI grant that has provided hands-on laboratory experience to more than 3,500 students. With its new grant, Princeton will take these initiatives further by creating a new curriculum that will expose biology students to courses now only taught to engineering and physics students. As part of the program, undergraduates will build sophisticated microscopes and use them to study such areas as Drosophila or fruit fly developmental genetics, neurobiology and microbiology.
  • Rice University in Houston, Texas, is creating Beyond Traditional Borders, a program that will train a new generation of students to reach beyond traditional disciplinary borders to understand, address and solve global health disparities. Rice will collaborate with medical schools, schools of public health and research institutes to develop the program. Beyond Traditional Borders builds on a course developed by HHMI professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum to increase students' scientific literacy by analyzing media reports of medical discoveries.
  • The University of Maryland Baltimore County's HHMI Scholars Program will focus on students from diverse backgrounds, providing a summer "bridge" program to give entering freshman a head start on success on college, and math and science tutoring for inner-city minority elementary and high school students in Baltimore. HHMI scholars can also spend their junior year doing research with HHMI investigators at other universities.

"Summer bridge programs -- a component of several of the new grants -- are particularly important in helping minority students make a successful transition to the world of the research university," said Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. "Individualized mentoring and early research experiences with working scientists also are vital components of a university education that prepares undergraduates for graduate school and careers in science. The universities want to offer their students these opportunities, and HHMI is pleased to help them do so."

HHMI invited 214 research universities that have a proven track record in preparing students for graduate education and careers in research, teaching or medicine to compete for the undergraduate science education awards. The Institute received 158 applications. A panel composed of leading scientists and educators, including HHMI professors and an HHMI investigator, reviewed the applications.

HHMI has supported undergraduate science education at the nation's colleges and universities since 1988. Through its undergraduate grants, the Institute has provided 247 institutions of higher learning with nearly $700 million for programs that include undergraduate research opportunities; new faculty, courses and labs; teaching and mentoring training; and work with precollege students and teachers.

A nonprofit medical research organization, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is one of the largest philanthropies in the world, with an endowment of $14.8 billion at the close of its 2005 fiscal year. HHMI spent $483 million in support of biomedical research and $80 million for support of a variety of science education and other grants programs in fiscal 2005.

HHMI is dedicated to discovering and disseminating new knowledge in the basic life sciences. HHMI grounds its research programs on the conviction that scientists of exceptional talent and imagination will make fundamental contributions of lasting scientific value and benefit to mankind when given the resources, time and freedom to pursue challenging questions. The Institute prizes intellectual daring and seeks to preserve the autonomy of its scientists as they pursue their research.

At Janelia Farm, HHMI's first freestanding campus, small research groups will explore fundamental biomedical questions in a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary culture. The $500 million campus, now under construction in Ashburn, Virginia, will open in the fall of 2006. When the campus is fully operational, there will be 24 group leaders and a permanent research staff of about 300 scientists.

2006 Undergraduate Science Education Program Awards

Institution City, State Award Amount
Arizona State University Tempe, Arizona $1,800,000
California Institute of Technology Pasadena, California $1,500,000
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania $1,500,000
Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, Ohio $1,500,000
Clemson University Clemson, South Carolina $2,000,000
College of William and Mary Williamsburg, Virginia $1,800,000
Cornell University0 Ithaca, New York $1,600,000
Dartmouth College Hanover, New Hampshire $1,500,000
Duke University Durham, North Carolina $1,900,000
East Tennessee State University Johnson City, Tennessee $1,700,000
Emory University Atlanta, Georgia $1,900,000
Georgetown University Washington, D.C. $1,800,000
Georgia State University Atlanta, Georgia 1,500,000
Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts $1,500,000
Lehigh University Bethlehem, Pennsylvania $1,800,000
Louisiana State University and A & M Baton Rouge, Louisiana $1,600,000
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts $1,800,000
Montana State University-Bozeman Bozeman, Montana $1,600,000
New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico $1,500,000
North Carolina State University Raleigh, North Carolina $1,500,000
Oregon State University Corvallis, Oregon $1,500,000
Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey $2,200,000
Rice University Houston, Texas $2,200,000
Stanford University Stanford, California $1,500,000
SUNY at Stony Brook Stony Brook, New York $1,800,000
Texas Tech University Lubbock, Texas $1,500,000
University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona $1,500,000
University of Arkansas Fayetteville, Arkansas $1,500,000
University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, California $1,600,000
University of California-Davis Davis, California $1,800,000
University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, California $2,200,000
University of California-Riverside Riverside, California $1,600,000
University of California-San Diego La Jolla, California $2,100,000
University of California-San Francisco San Francisco, California $2,100,000
University of Colorado at Boulder Boulder, Colorado $1,900,000
University of Delaware Newark, Delaware $1,500,000
University of Florid Gainesville, Florida $1,500,000
University of Maryland, Baltimore County Baltimore, Maryland $2,200,000
University of Maryland, College Park College Park, Maryland $2,000,000
University of Massachusetts at Amherst Amherst, Massachusetts $1,600,000
University of Miami Coral Gables, Florida $1,900,000
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, Michigan $1,500,000
University of Montana Missoula, Montana $1,500,000
University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania $2,100,000
University of Texas at Austin Austin, Texas $1,900,000
University of Texas at El Paso El Paso, Texas $1,500,000
University of Washington Seattle, Washington $1,600,000
Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, Virginia $1,500,000
Washington University St. Louis, Missouri $1,600,000
Yale University New Haven, Connecticut $2,200,000

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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