As a recognized leader in preparing students for STEM careers, Hope College is one of only 11 colleges and universities nationwide highlighted in a website developed to help improve undergraduate science education.
The website, “Supporting STEM Success in a Liberal Arts Context,” synthesizes the experiences of the 11 institutions in striving to strengthen the undergraduate experiences in science and mathematics for all of their students. It describes the institutions’ programs as well as the lessons learned on the way to help others aiming to adopt, adapt or create similar programs. The website is located at serc.carleton.edu/liberalarts/index.html.
The schools that are featured are the 11 institutions recognized as Capstone Institutions by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) for the maturity of their programming. HHMI had singled out the 11 schools when awarding grants to 47 colleges and universities across the country in 2012, celebrating Hope and the other 10 as long-time recipients of funding from HHMI that were “collectively among the best in the country at producing graduates who go on to science careers.” Hope received major program-development grants from HHMI in 1991, 1996, 2004, 2009 and 2012.
“The website is an initiative developed by the 11 Capstone Institutions to disseminate information about programs and practices that we have found effective in exciting students about STEM careers and preparing them for those careers,” said Dr. Catherine Mader, a professor of physics who has been Hope’s representative for the project and has also been the program director for the most recent HHMI grant. “The support that we each received from HHMI both helped enhance our institutional programs and provided opportunities for HHMI-supported institutions to collaborate. Our hope through the website is to extend the lessons that we learned to others.”
The website features detailed information from each Capstone Institution about its programming via institutional profiles organized by four themes: developing inquiry skills, increasing persistence of all students in STEM, fostering integrative or interdisciplinary learning, and pathways to institutional change. In addition to the individual profiles, the site reviews the overarching lessons learned in each of the four areas.
Hope’s profile notes that the college has engaged students in inquiry-based learning through collaborative research with faculty mentors in the natural and applied sciences for more than a century. The model, for which the college has repeatedly received national recognition, is now applied across all academic divisions, with about 130 students in the natural and applied sciences engaged in collaborative research and some 300 in the division participating in inquiry-based learning through classroom experiences. Hope’s most recent Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance, held on Friday, April 15, featured 274 research projects conducted by 408 Hope students both independently and in collaboration with peers and faculty mentors in the arts, humanities, natural and applied sciences, and social sciences.
Hope is also distinctive, Mader noted, for its emphasis on interdisciplinary connections, a priority facilitated in particular through the HHMI support.
“For example, our biochemistry major is truly a blending between our biology and chemistry programs,” she said. “That’s different than the way it’s done at many other schools, and it means that our science programs are less siloed and more integrated. That came out of our first HHMI grant, and people point at Hope as a model.”
In addition to biochemistry/molecular biology, interdisciplinary programs in the sciences at Hope include environmental science and neuroscience, both of which offer minors. Beyond academic efforts, interdisciplinary research and scholarship has grown over the years. The Nuclear Group engages chemists and physicists, and there are interdisciplinary efforts in science and mathematics education as well as computer science and genomics, to name a few.
The profile also highlights numerous specialized programs at the college, ranging from FACES (Fostering a Community of Excellence in Science), which is a community of students who are members of groups underrepresented at Hope or in STEM fields; to Day 1: Watershed, a broad-based, residential research experience for first-year students; to the Center for Exploratory Learning, which provides opportunities for K-12 students and pre-service teachers to engage in active STEM learning.
In addition to Hope, the Capstone Institutions featured on the site are Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Carleton College, CUNY (City of New York) Hunter College, Grinnell College, Morehouse College, Smith College, Spelman College, Swarthmore College and Xavier University of Louisiana.