Occidental College Receives $1.5 Million Grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute
A new $1.5 million, four-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will fund the expansion of Occidental College’s acclaimed undergraduate research program, its science outreach programs to high school and community college students and faculty, and the creation of a new scientific literacy curriculum.
The challenge is to enable more students to participate in research at greater length – or at an earlier stage – in their undergraduate career, and to provide more opportunities for interdisciplinary scientific study and research that will lead to greater scientific literacy for all our students,” said chemistry Professor Chris Craney, associate dean at Occidental and director of the Undergraduate Research Center.
“HHMI support will play a vital role in making it possible for Occidental to continue its efforts to create new interdisciplinary collaborations, to improve scientific literacy, and encourage women and minority students to pursue careers in science,” said Occidental President Theodore R. Mitchell.
A portion of the grant will fund a new science literacy program that includes objectives and various strategies for developing new graduation requirements. New courses or interdisciplinary course modules will be developed that integrate science literacy objectives with broader college objectives involving critical thinking, analytical writing and cultural literacy.
Occidental was one of 42 institutions – from the 170 that submitted proposals – to receive a grant from a $49.7 million fund. The award amounts ranged from $500,000 to $1.6 million. In their review of proposals, HHMI’s review panel noted initiatives that reflected recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences publication “BIO 2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists.”
The 2004 grants support a range of activities to strengthen undergraduate science education and build on past awards, including a $900,000 HHMI grant that Occidental received in 2000 to expand its innovative science education outreach programs to high schools and community colleges.
Most notably, the latest grant will broaden science access to Occidental students by increasing student research summer fellowships and academic year apprenticeships. Previous levels of funding have not been sufficient to meet the demand: about a quarter of proposed student research projects could not be funded last year. HHMI funding will allow more than 130 students per year to participate in undergraduate research.
The award will also extend the college’s biomedical research fund to support an off-campus research training partnership with the Beckman Institute of the City of Hope, the Keck Graduate Institute and Kaiser Sunset Medical Center. Students will be able to conduct research in molecular medicine, neuroscience, bio-informatics, bio-engineering and clinical research. Further, the grant will allow more science students to participate in meetings and conferences, and it will add a research laboratory coordinator to augment faculty mentoring and supervision.
The grant also will provide partial salary and partial start-up support for two new faculty positions – a biomathematician and a biophysicist – as well as two post-doctoral fellows to mentor undergraduates. “Interdisciplinary teaching is not new at Occidental, and was one of the three major themes that emerged from Occidental’s recent strategic planning process,” Craney said. “Interdisciplinary biology courses and research are needed to prepare the next generation of biomedical students.”
With the HHMI support, Occidental will continue its Community College Summer Research Program and expand it to include community college teachers. National Science Foundation studies show that community colleges have less access to undergraduate research opportunities, but constitute the majority of college-level freshmen and sophomore students. The college will continue its pre-college outreach program – Teachers + Occidental = Partnership in Science (TOPS) – a nationally recognized effort in which Occidental goes to Southern California middle schools and high schools to train teachers to offer classroom labs.
Occidental science students have a longstanding record of academic excellence, as they regularly publish research results in professional journals and present their work at scientific conferences. At the Southern California Conference on Undergraduate Research, Occidental students have presented more papers and posters than students from any other college or research university in the region over the past seven years.
Of the 46 Occidental students awarded a Rhodes, National Science Foundation, Fulbright, Goldwater, Beckman, or Marshall scholarship since 1993, each had participated in undergraduate research.