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The $50 million solution

Colleges face a number of tough challenges in teaching science today. New fields that blur the lines between disciplines are emerging, and biologists, chemists, physicists and mathematicians are forging interdisciplinary collaborations. Scientists trained to be outstanding researchers need to learn to be outstanding teachers. More minorities must be encouraged to pursue scientific careers.

To help colleges meet these challenges, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is awarding $49.7 million in grants to 42 baccalaureate and master's degree institutions in 17 states and Puerto Rico. This brings HHMI's investment in undergraduate science to more than $606 million.

The four-year grants, ranging from $500,000 to $1.6 million, support a variety of programs to improve undergraduate science, from new courses in hot fields such as bioinformatics and computational biology, to fellowships for postdoctoral researchers that include teaching experiences, and a mobile teaching laboratory to bring science to disadvantaged and minority students in remote areas.

Although its investigators conduct research at universities and medical schools, HHMI supports science at colleges because they also play a vital role in education, according to Peter Bruns, vice president for grants and special programs at HHMI. "Good science can be done in different settings, in colleges as well as universities," says Bruns. "Colleges are a better learning environment for some students, and they serve underrepresented minorities extremely well."

Undergraduate biology is not well-funded nationally, notes Stephen Barkanic, director of HHMI's undergraduate science education program. "Public and private funders tend to focus their support on research programs, infrastructure, and graduate training, but undergraduate biology tends to be neglected. Smaller colleges and universities, in particular, often are overlooked in the intensive competition for grant dollars."
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Contact: Jennifer Donovan
donovanj@hhmi.org
301-215-8859
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
18-May-2004


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