|New Grant Continues HHMI Support of Science Education Efforts at Davidson
April 22, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
Davidson College has received a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to attract more students toward the study of science, and improve their chances for success in the field. The grant facilitates a half-dozen initiatives toward that goal, including a "Math and Science Center," mentoring programs for underrepresented minority students, and research fellowships.
|Prof. Verna Case meets in her office with two senior mentors in the "Strategies" program, Jarrod Blue and Trevan Rankin. Blue will enter graduate studies in ecology at the University of Tennessee next year, while Rankin will attend medical school. The HHMI grant will allow the program to expand to eight mentors annually.|
Davidson is among 48 undergraduate institutions nationwide receiving a total of $60 million from HHMI "to help usher in a new era of science education." 192 institutions applied for funding.
"The undergraduate years are vital to attracting and retaining students who will be the future of science," said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. "We want students to experience science as the creative, challenging and rewarding endeavor that it is."
The new grant is the fourth that Davidson has received from HHMI since 1988. Verna Case, Dana Professor of Biology at Davidson, said the money has helped Davidson's science programs achieve a level of "full maturity." Earlier grants addressed needs for facilities and equipment, while the latest grant highlights curriculum and programs for attracting and retaining students in science, rather than infrastructure. The new grant will fund a combination of new initiatives and continuation of programs created by earlier HHMI grants.
The primary new initiative in the grant establishes a "Math and Science Center" beginning next school year. It will be modeled on the college's relatively new "Writing Center" and "Speaking Center," where students receive guidance and critique from peer mentors in completing their academic assignments.
Case explained, "Many students arrive at Davidson intending to major in the sciences or follow our premedical track, but are discouraged by the challenge of our gateway courses. A center where help is regularly and easily available will overcome students' reluctance to seek help early and often."
She continued, "We expect that the center will give them the support they need to get through these courses and thereby increase our retention of students. It will be a tremendous benefit for the sciences at Davidson."
The HHMI grant will fund a full-time professional director for the Math and Science Center, and pay for the student mentors who will staff it. It will serve students in biology, physics, chemistry, psychology and mathematics. Collecting support resources for those different disciplines in one place also emphasizes the increasing interdisciplinary nature of science, Case said.
She said the college wants to hire a director who is an outstanding science teacher and scholar of pedagogy, rather than a specialist in one discipline. "We want someone who knows how to help students learn across the whole spectrum of science," she said.
Another new initiative aimed at attracting more students toward careers in science is a Research and Teaching Internship program. It will employ seven interns for a year prior to their enrollment in graduate or professional school. Interns will have the opportunity during that time to strengthen their research skills, gain teaching experience by assisting faculty members, and clarify their career plans.
The HHMI grant encourages institutions to develop ways of specifically increasing the number of underrepresented minority students studying science. Davidson will address that by expanding the existing "Strategies for Success" program that was initiated with the last HHMI grant. The program currently assigns mentors only to first-year minority students, but it will become a four-year program. Eight minority students will be assigned mentors to help them through their first- and second-year science curriculum, then during the junior and senior year they will mentor younger students.
Another new initiative facilitated through the grant is employment of a recent Davidson graduate as a science outreach coordinator. The coordinator will seek out opportunities for faculty and students to make scientific presentations to school, civic and public groups. By taking care of logistics and actively marketing the expertise of faculty and students, the coordinator should be able to increase the number and quality of presentations, and strengthen Davidson's reputation as a resource for science education in the region.
The HHMI grant will also fund several other ongoing programs at Davidson. It funds reduced course loads for professors seeking to revitalize existing courses and develop new courses. It will allow the college to continue to hire eight students each summer as HHMI Research Fellows, and will hire a postdoctoral scientist for two years of research and teaching, following the conclusion of the appointments of current young scientists Karmela Haynes and Fiona Watson. It will continue support of underrepresented minority mentors and students in neuroscience through the nationwide "SOMAS" program that Dickson Professor of Psychology Julio Ramirez directs, and also support continued undergraduate involvement in the Genome Consortium for Active Teaching program directed by Professor of Biology Malcolm Campbell.
With an endowment of $18.7 billion, HHMI is one of the world's largest philanthropies, and the nation's largest private supporter of science education. It has invested more than $1.2 billion in grants to reinvigorate life science education at both research universities and liberal arts colleges, and employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefront of their fields.
Case emphasized that HHMI support has been crucial in development of a strong science program at Davidson. "We are fortunate that HHMI helped us develop the equipment and facilities we need for science education," she said. "We're a mature program now and can start giving back -- building a strong pipeline to generate scientists, and increase awareness of science in general."
She continued, "In addition to our work with science majors, Davidson wants all its graduates to gain a clear understanding of science and its implications in our society. Science is integral to everything we do, so scientific literacy is crucial in helping our alumni be better leaders in the community."
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz