posted May 18, 2004

Grant Supports Science Development

A major grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) will enable Hope College to develop even further an approach to science education that has a proven record of success and also provides a platform for the full infusion of science education and research across disciplinary boundaries, according to the college’s dean for the natural sciences.

HHMI has awarded Hope a $1.5 million, four-year grant, part of $49.7 million in grants to 42 baccalaureate and master’s degree institutions in 17 states and Puerto Rico. The awards, supporting a variety of programs to improve undergraduate science, were announced on Tuesday, May 18.

The grant to Hope will fund multiple initiatives, including the development of interdisciplinary courses and minors, equipping a new laboratory, collaborative research opportunities for students, and training post-doctoral fellows. Hope faculty have been invested in this mode of education for several years, but in quantity and quality the award from HHMI provides an opportunity for a significant leap forward that wouldn’t be possible without the infusion of support, said Dr. James Gentile, who is dean for the natural sciences at Hope.

“I see this as a really significant transition grant to the future,” he said. “It’s not repairing anything that was wrong. It’s instead taking everything that was right and advancing it even further.”

“We have already started on absolutely everything that we put in the proposal,” Gentile said. “The grant will allow us to develop those pilots more fully and more quickly, and as a result science at Hope will be transformed into a form that will have very few peers at our level for what we provide students.”

Hope has earned recognition for its science instruction on a variety of measures through the years. In 2003, the college tied for fourth nationally in the “Undergraduate research/Creative projects” category in the “America’s Best Colleges” guide published by “U.S. News and World Report” for its success in teaching through active learning; Hope was also named to the listing in 2004, among 39 unranked colleges and universities. The college’s program in the sciences was recognized as a “Program That Works” by Project Kaleidoscope of Washington, D.C., and identified as a model for other institutions to consider. According to a study of 518 baccalaureate institutions released by Franklin and Marshall College, Hope ranked in the top six percent in the nation in producing future Ph.D. holders between 1920 and 1995—with the department of chemistry in the top one percent.

Approximately half of the HHMI grant will support faculty for their efforts in the development of interdisciplinary courses designed to show students how the disciplines of science inter-relate. Gentile noted that researchers are increasingly drawing upon the methods and knowledge of multiple disciplines in their investigations, a trend that science education must reflect. “These new efforts will allow for an even more seamless integration of the sciences and provide Hope students with a unique opportunity for learning that will set them apart from their peers at other institutions,” he said.

Hope’s curriculum already includes a model case studies-based course that blends biology and mathematics. Building upon the model and others that are proposed, Hope faculty will be working collaboratively with faculty from Carleton and St. Olaf colleges of Minnesota to develop new programs that can become available at all three schools.

The college will also be developing two new interdisciplinary minors. A new minor in neuroscience—currently initiated with a single course at Hope—will blend biology, chemistry and psychology. A second new minor, in computational modeling, will integrate biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and physics.

To support the new, innovative computational curriculum, the college has constructed a technology-rich laboratory in the new science center. HHMI funds will support the initial set of hardware/software needs for the laboratory, which will ultimately provide computational power and capabilities that will be on a par with those found at most research universities, Gentile noted.

A total of 11 additional students each year will receive research stipends through the grant, joining several dozen peers who conduct collaborative work with faculty through other support. Six will work on projects with a strong interdisciplinary focus in basic scientific research. Five will be students who plan to teach at the K-12 level, so that they can bring their own experience with research-based learning to their teaching of younger students.

Recent Ph.D. recipients from Howard University of Washington, D.C., will spend two years at Hope as post-doctoral fellows, a total of four fellows across the four-year grant duration. Gentile noted that the emphasis will be on mentoring, with current Hope faculty helping the fellows learn to develop and run research programs that provide meaningful learning experiences for undergraduates. The initiative will expand an already existing relationship. Hope has hosted doctoral candidates from Howard—in a variety of disciplines, not the sciences alone—since 1999 through the “Preparing Future Faculty Program” of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

To provide continual perspective on and guidance for the program, Hope will collaborate with three other institutions—Grinnell College of Iowa, Harvey Mudd College of California and Wellesley College of Massachusetts—for an in-depth assessment of curriculum efforts at all four institutions. Furthermore, a Scientific Advisory Board of nationally renowned scientists/educators from leading institutions (Cornell University, Howard University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin) will provide oversight to Hope faculty and directly to Gentile, who is the program director for the HHMI award.

The latest round of grants from HHMI, which range from $500,000 to $1.6 million, bring the Institute’s total investment in undergraduate science to more than $606 million.

HHMI invited 198 public and private baccalaureate and master’s institutions to compete for the new awards. They were selected for their record of preparing students for graduate education and careers in research, teaching or medicine. A panel of distinguished scientists and educators reviewed proposals and recommended the 42 awards approved by the Institute’s Board of Trustees on May 4.

The recipient institutions range from Amherst College in Massachusetts to Occidental College in Los Angeles, Calif., and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. All of the Hope collaborative partners—Carleton, Grinnell, Harvey Mudd, St. Olaf and Wellesley--also received grants of their own. Hope and Kalamazoo colleges were the only Michigan schools to receive awards.