posted April 6, 2009

Grant Supports West Ottawa Participation in REACH

A grant from the ExxonMobil to the West Ottawa Public Schools will expand the district's opportunity to have teachers and students learn about the natural and applied sciences as participants in the summer-research program at Hope College.

The $4,000 grant will support the participation of two students in Project REACH (Research Experience Across Cultures at Hope) this summer.  The award will be presented to Dr. Patricia Koeze, superintendent of West Ottawa Public Schools, on Friday, April 3, by Beth Snyder, U.S. field public affairs advisor with ExxonMobil, with Matt Van Zanten, representing J&H Oil, a local Mobil branded fuels marketing distributor.

The REACH program is a six-week immersion for high school students and teachers engaging in challenging and relevant research projects with Hope's science, engineering and mathematics faculty.  The goal is to provide meaningful learning experiences to the students as they consider their interest in pursuing careers in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields in college, and to involve teachers in research activity that they can in turn apply to their own classroom teaching.  The emphasis has been on recruiting students who come from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM careers.

In the first three summers since the program began in 2006, a total of 29 students and two teachers have participated in the program, including 10 students from West Ottawa.

"Our partnership with HopeCollege has allowed West Ottawa students to participate in many experiences they could not get elsewhere," Koeze said.  "Project REACH, in particular, is such a crucial area of study that allows our students to work side-by-side with Hope College STEM professors in the summer months.  Many of our students have had their work published in scientific journals.  Several students have developed a deep interest in science and have gone on to further their studies in a post-secondary setting."

"We are excited about receiving this grant from ExxonMobil, which allows us to expand the Project REACH program with Hope College.  It is our sincere desire to work closely with HopeCollege and ExxonMobil to offer additional opportunities for our students in the area of science education.  I would like to thank both Hope College and ExxonMobil for making programs such as Project REACH available to our students."

Project REACH was initially funded through support to the college from the National Science Foundation and internal sources, with support continuing through a four-year grant to Hope from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) last spring.  The students from West Ottawa who will be at Hope this summer through the ExxonMobil award will be in addition to eight student and teacher participants from both West Ottawa and HollandHigh School supported through the HHMI grant.  Project REACH is expected to include 16 students and two teachers this summer.

Project REACH reflects the college's ongoing commitment to continuing and expanding its long-running emphasis on student-faculty research as a teaching tool, according to Dr. Moses Lee, who is dean for the natural and applied sciences and professor of chemistry at Hope.  Lee noted that he is pleased that the ExxonMobil support will enable additional high school students to participate.

"I am very happy to see that West Ottawa High School is receiving a grant from the ExxonMobil Foundation, especially for supporting two West Ottawa students to participate in our 2009 REACH program," Lee said.  "REACH is a priority in the natural and applied sciences division's vision emphasizing broadening participation of high school students and teachers to work alongside Hope faculty and students for six weeks each summer.  I look forward to working with West Ottawa and other local and neighboring high schools."

In addition to working on projects during the school year, regularly more than 160 students conduct research full-time for several weeks each summer with faculty mentors.  Those participating in summer research at the college include not only Hope students and the Project REACH participants but also students from other colleges and universities supported through National Science Foundation (NSF) "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" grants awarded to departments within the natural and applied sciences at Hope.

Hope has received recognition in a variety of ways for its model of teaching through collaborative faculty-student research. For the past seven years, since the category debuted, the "America's Best Colleges" guide published by "U.S. News and World Report" has included Hope on its listing of institutions that are exceptional for their emphasis on undergraduate research and creative projects. Hope ranked fourth in the nation when the category debuted in 2003; the institutions are no longer ranked, but only 33 are on the list in the 2009 edition. The guide also includes Hope among the top 100 national liberal arts colleges in the U.S.

Among other indicators, Hope was one of only 10 liberal arts institutions nationally recognized for innovation and excellence in science instruction by the NSF with an "Award for the Integration of Research and Education" in 1998.  In addition, the bulk of the resources that support the college's research program in the sciences come through competitive research grants from external sources such as the NSF, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Homeland Security, private foundations and corporations.  During the 2007-08 school year, Hope held approximately $3.5 million in support of faculty research projects, approximately 50 percent of which was from the NSF.