HHMI awards UD $1.7 million grant
for undergraduate biology education

Hal White

David Usher

The University of Delaware has been awarded a four-year, $1.7 million grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to support undergraduate biology education.

UD was one of 44 research institutions nationwide selected to receive a total of $80 million in funding from HHM.

In its announcement, HHMI said "undergraduate biology education is in the midst of a revolution," and the grants will help the University of Delaware and other institutions "address the challenges of a rapidly changing and increasingly interdisciplinary science."

This is the third major grant the University has received from HHMI, after a $1 million award in 1992 and a $1.6 million award in 1998.

"The University is very pleased to be selected once again by HHMI for this prestigious grant award," UD Acting Provost Dan Rich said. "This project will further enhance the efforts of our faculty to develop innovative approaches to integrating interdisciplinary teaching and research, particularly in the life sciences."

HHMI said the new grants will support programs that encourage graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to hone their teaching skills. Other programs will bring emerging scientific disciplines such as genomics and computational biology into the undergraduate curriculum and encourage minorities to pursue careers in science, as in UD's Network of Undergraduate Collaborative Learning Experiences for Underrepresented Scholars (NUCLEUS) Program and its research partnership with students from Delaware State and Lincoln universities.

The four-year grants to universities in 28 states and the District of Columbia range from $1.2 to $2.2 million each. A panel of scientists and educators reviewed proposals from 189 institutions.

Hal White, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, directs the HHMI program at UD. The assistant director is David Usher, associate professor of biological sciences.

"The continuing success of our program stems from UD's excellent record of integrating research and undergraduate education. This is something that many research universities have trouble doing well," White said.

"Our goal is to 'stimulate attitudes of inquiry,'" White added. "That theme permeates all aspects of the program, including undergraduate research, student facilitators in problem-based learning classes, the NUCLEUS Program, faculty development, equipment for undergraduate teaching laboratories, training of teaching assistants and outreach efforts to promote interest in science. We seek to recover the curiosity that seems to disappear late in elementary school when most students become reluctant to raise their hands and begin to keep their questions to themselves."

White said this summer marks the pilot of a new HHMI outreach program to local high school students and chemistry teachers. The course, taught by Thomas Beebe, UD professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will engage students in environmental and biological problems whose study requires a sound foundation in analytical chemistry.

In addition, White said, the HHMI program coordinates with other UD efforts, such as the Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education, a national workshop on integrating problem based learning and technology.

Science faculty from UD, Delaware State and Lincoln universities who attend ITUE will be supported by incentive funds for training in a variety of areas, including educational conferences, computer hardware and software and assistance with the use of leading-edge classroom technologies. In turn, faculty will develop new stand-alone investigative laboratories in introductory biology and chemistry courses for undergraduates.

White said new laboratory courses will be taught by faculty active in research with the help of teaching assistants. Laboratory exercises will be developed by postdoctoral fellows and graduate students who have expressed a desire to design demonstration laboratories and gain teaching experience. This fall marks the beginning of "Introduction to Laboratory Instruction," a course for new teaching assistants in biology and chemistry funded by the HHMI grant. Postdoctoral fellows and graduate students involved in the HHMI program also can participate in ITUE.

The 2002 HHMI grant will support improvements in the teaching skills and practices of existing faculty and graduate teaching assistants beyond ITUE through its sponsorship of an annual seminar series in which nationally known science educators present talks and workshops.

White, a biochemist, said that modern biological science draws from many disciplines. Consequently, the HHMI Undergraduate Program supports undergraduate education beyond traditional biology as is evident by its interdisciplinary support for undergraduate research, a major component of previous HHMI grants and the new grant as well.

This summer there were 29 HHMI Undergraduate Research Scholars working on campus in a variety of departments, including plant and soil sciences, chemistry and biochemistry, chemical engineering, medical technology and biological sciences. These students presented posters on their summer's research and some will go on to present their work in April 2003 at the annual Experimental Biology Meetings in San Diego.

"Biology is progressing so rapidly and interfacing with so many other disciplines that undergraduate teaching runs the risk of substituting quantity for quality," HHMI President Thomas R. Cech, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, said. "Through these grants, the institute is providing resources to help universities bring their undergraduate science teaching up to the level of their research programs."

This is the 10th round of HHMI grants to enhance undergraduate science education and the fifth competition targeting research universities. Since 1988, the institute has awarded $556 million to 236 colleges and universities in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a medical research organization whose principal mission is biomedical research. HHMI employs 336 Hughes investigators who conduct basic medical research in HHMI laboratories at 70 medical centers and universities nationwide. Through its complementary grants program, the institute supports science education in the United States and a select group of biomedical scientists abroad.

NEIL THOMAS