posted April 22, 2008

Major Grant Emphasizes External Research Ties

A major grant to Hope College from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) will enable the college to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones as the college continues to emphasize its acclaimed model of teaching through faculty-student collaborative research in the sciences.

HHMI has awarded Hope a $1.4 million, four-year grant, part of $60 million in grants to 48 institutions in 21 states and Puerto Rico. The recipients include three colleges from Michigan, all from the west side of the state: Hope, Calvin and Kalamazoo.

The new grant to Hope will fund multiple initiatives, many building on the success of efforts that have been supported by a $1.5 million, four-year grant that the college received from HHMI in 2004. Emphases will include enhancing research efforts in the biomedical sciences at Hope, with particular attention to collaborations with other institutions; increased emphasis on training K-12 science and mathematics teachers; increasing diversity in science, both at Hope and beyond; and initiating and participating in efforts to promote and develop scholarly lessons concerning teaching and learning at the college as well as within the broader higher education community.

The previous HHMI grant had emphasized developing interdisciplinary research experiences between the individual programs in the natural and physical sciences at Hope, according to Dr. Joanne Stewart, who is a professor of chemistry and the program director for the new grant program. She noted that the new award will help the college extend the interdisciplinary focus to other departments at the college while also finding new ways to connect with other programs and institutions.

"The current program has been very much about building relationships across the division," Stewart said. "So the next logical step is to turn and look outward. That's very much the theme of the new proposal: to take the hard work that we've done and build relationships between Hope and outside organizations."

The effort in the biomedical sciences will focus on both research and the training of future biomedical scientists. The college will use the grant to develop new research relationships in the biomedical sciences between departments within the college in addition to building connections with the growing regional biomedical community including the Van Andel Institute and the new Michigan State University medical school in Grand Rapids. In addition to departments in the natural and physical sciences at Hope, programs within the college that will be involved will include education, kinesiology and psychology. The initiative will also support six students each year during multi-week summer research or internship experiences.

To help enhance K-12 science education, the college is placing additional emphasis on the training of future K-12 science teachers and on developing additional connections with the area schools in providing research and professional development activities for local science teachers as well as opportunities for students in the local schools. The program will support six Hope education students each summer in participating in research so that they can in turn bring insights from their own experience with research-based learning to their teaching of younger students, and will also provide opportunities for area in-service teachers to become involved in summer research projects at the college, both efforts that have been on-going. The college will also hire a new faculty member in the fall of 2009 who will hold a joint appointment in both education and either one of the science disciplines or mathematics and will focus on helping future teachers learn to teach science and will also conduct research in K-12 science education.

The emphasis on increasing the number of underrepresented minorities who pursue science careers will focus on high school students, college students and faculty members alike. The grant will support the college's "REACH" (Research Experiences Across Cultures at Hope) program, through which area minority high school students have been conducting summer research at the college since 2006. Working with other programs at the college, the science division will also intensify its recruitment of minority students, with a focus on the area schools. Working with a consortium of other schools, Hope will also hire minority scientists and mathematicians for two-year post-doctoral appointments during which they will receive mentoring from experienced faculty. The diversity efforts will be directed by Dr. Karen Nordell Pearson, who holds a part-time appointment at the college and has already been directing the REACH program and is also director of the Pew Midstates Consortium for Math and Science.

Hope will work to bring the lessons of collaborative faculty-student research to the classroom by encouraging the development of research-like exercises. The faculty-development program, based on findings from the multi-institution, HHMI-supported Classroom Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) assessment project, will be led by Dr. Lorna Hernandez Jarvis, professor of psychology. Among other participants, the initiative will include the college's statistics program, through which students will work with data, particularly biomedical data, gathered through Hope research projects. Hope will be creating a statistical teaching and research computing laboratory for the program.

HHMI invited 224 colleges with a track record of preparing undergraduate students for research careers to submit proposals. The 2008 grant winners were selected through a stringent review process by distinguished scientists and educators that narrowed the 192 applicants down to 48 winners. The awards range from $700,000 to $1.6 million.

HHMI is 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 to engage the nation's leading scientists in teaching. In 2007, it launched the Science Education Alliance, which will serve as a national resource for the development and distribution of innovative science education materials and methods.

One of the world's largest philanthropies, HHMI is a nonprofit medical research organization that employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefront of their fields. HHMI has an endowment of approximately $18.7 billion. Its headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

The new grant marks the second time during the current academic year that Hope has received major program support from HHMI. This fall, Hope was one of only a dozen colleges and universities nationwide and the only institution in Michigan selected by HHMI to implement a new genomics course developed by HHMI's Science Education Alliance which will involve incoming freshmen in cutting-edge research during their first semester in college.