Washington University receives $2.2 million funding from Howard Hughes Medical Institute

July 09, 2002

St. Louis, July 9, 2002 -- Washington University in St. Louis is the recipient of a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) intended to enhance undergraduate biology education, graduate teaching skills and the incorporation of emerging scientific disciplines into undergraduate biology education.

Undergraduate biology education is in the midst of a revolution, and 44 research universities will receive $80 million from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to help them address the challenges of a rapidly changing and increasingly interdisciplinary science. The grants will support programs that encourage graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to hone their teaching skills. Other programs will bring emerging scientific disciplines such as genomics and computational biology into the undergraduate curriculum and encourage minorities to pursue careers in science.

The four-year grants to universities in 28 states and the District of Columbia range from $1.2 million to $2.2 million each. A panel of scientists and educators reviewed proposals from 189 institutions.

Washington University, which has been funded by this program since 1992, will receive $2.2 million over four years to provide wide-ranging services and support for undergraduate and K-12 science education. Sarah CR. Elgin, Ph.D., professor of biology, directs the Washington University Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program. Washington University was funded at $1.7 million, plus interest, in 1992, $1.4 million in 1994 and $1.7 million in 1998 from the HHMI program.

"The grant will allow us to sustain successful programs in undergraduate research and K-12 science outreach while funding innovative new curriculum in the natural sciences," said Elgin. "We're constantly moving to institutionalize the successful efforts in science education. The willingness of Howard Hughes Medical Institute to provide sustained support is certainly important in realizing the benefits of these efforts. We're very grateful for their ongoing support."

Washington University will use the grant to:

•  Continue the HHMI/Washington University Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program that uses matching funds from HHMI and Washington University faculty grants to support approximately 35 students for 10 weeks of intensive summer research. In this program, students develop a competitive research proposal, carry out their proposed research and present the results in a day-long research symposium.

•  Continue the successful Prefreshmen Program, which brings 16 to 20 talented and eager students to Washington University the summer before their freshman year for seven weeks of research.

•  Add a new program of HHMI/Washington University Summer Undergraduate Education Fellowships that will support a second summer of research -- this time in science education -- for two to five Fellows. The Fellows will be completing the Washington University five-year program that combines a bachelor's in science with a master's in teaching.

•  Continue support for student staff and materials for the Washington University Natural Sciences Learning Center, which provides a "home base" where freshman/sophomore biology students have access to teaching assistants, peer tutors and computer-based information and learning tools.

•  Develop a new web-based tutorial and placement system, focusing on stoichiometry and problem-solving skills in General Chemistry and support follow-up workshops that will enable students with weak preparation to succeed in their freshman-year General Chemistry course.

•  Develop and implement "laboratory" sessions for Calculus II, challenging students working together to use their newly acquired math skills in the analysis of data collected from demonstration experiments. Washington University pilot studies indicate that small group work of this kind increases student engagement, builds self-confidence, develops representational flexibility and expertise, and encourages students to continue studying mathematics. Approximately 800 students majoring in science and engineering will partake in small laboratory groups .

•  As a prelude to developing a special major in computational biology, develop an advising capability for this area and initiate a junior/senior level course in "Genomics."

•  Develop advanced laboratory courses in biology, biochemistry and biophysics that use current interdisciplinary problems to guide small groups of students through a collaborative research experience.

•  Expand the successful program for K-8 teachers, Education 600X, which already covers topics in physics and biology, by adding chemistry, ecology and astronomy/planetary science. Also continue and expand the "Teaching Team" program, in which Washington University undergraduate volunteers develop hands-on science activities and take these into K-8 classrooms.

•  Continue core support for "Modern Genetics for All Students," the Washington University investigative high school curriculum, coordinating supplies, technical materials and support for teachers implementing this hands-on unit developed jointly by Washington University scientists and area teachers.

•  Initiate and promote a new Summer Research Internship program for teachers in which Washington University Science Outreach will identify Washington University faculty members willing to support a summer teacher intern through National Science Foundation or National Institutes of Health grants, identify interested teachers and facilitate the application process.

The Calculus II initiative is an ambitious endeavor to help science and engineering majors understand and appreciate the role of calculus in their course work.

"Lab scientists---chemists for example---have long realized the value of laboratory instruction for students," said Steven G. Krantz, Ph.D., Washington University professor of mathematics and chair of the department. "The lab activities help to make abstract ideas concrete, and enable students to build the ideas in their own minds. The advent of high-speed digital computers has now made analogous instructional methodologies available in mathematics. The traditional lectures and recitation sections in Math 132 will now be supplemented with labs, which include hands-on experimentation and data collection as well as computer calculation and simulation. The lab is being developed with the combined efforts of Richard Rochberg, Ron Freiwald, Ann Podleski, Ed Spitznagel, and myself. As space and resources permit, we hope to expand these lab activities to other lower-division courses."

There also is grant support for program assessment activities and administration.

"Biology is progressing so rapidly and interfacing with so many other disciplines that undergraduate teaching runs the risk of substituting quantity for quality," says HHMI President Thomas R. Cech,Ph.D., a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist. "Through these grants, the Institute is providing resources to help universities bring their undergraduate science teaching up to the level of their research programs."

The dichotomy between research and teaching concerns Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. "One barrier to linking research and education is the lack of opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who are the future professors, to acquire teaching skills and experience," says Bruns, who was a professor of biology at Cornell University before he joined HHMI.

The new grants support programs that can become models for bringing undergraduate teaching and research closer together, as well as exposing undergraduates to emerging fields in biology and to the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of the life sciences. They also support efforts to attract minorities to science and to encourage them to choose scientific careers. Programs include interdisciplinary laboratory courses in areas such as bioinformatics, proteomics and tissue engineering, as well as new faculty, laboratory equipment, curriculum development and student research opportunities. This is the 10th round of HHMI grants to enhance undergraduate science education and the 5th competition targeting research universities. Since 1988, the Institute has awarded $556 million to 236 colleges and universities in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a medical research organization whose principal mission is biomedical research. HHMI employs 336 Hughes investigators who conduct basic medical research in HHMI laboratories at 70 medical centers and universities nationwide. Through its complementary grants program, the Institute supports science education in the United States and a select group of biomedical scientists abroad.

Washington University in St. Louis

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