PAGE 1 OF 3
Let the Experiments Begin
by Andrea Widener
HHMI grants offer schools the chance to try new things.
Barnard students Christine Chang and Ayelet Spitzer use fluorescence microscopy and digital imaging to determine whether cells are dividing in fruit fly testes (left). Charlie Weiss, a student at Carleton College, performs air-sensitive filtration work under the watchful eye of chemistry professor Gretchen Hofmeister (right).
Sometimes experiments don't start in the lab.
In fact, the experiments in science education being conducted by HHMI's newest undergraduate grantees take place in middle schools and on movie sets, in dormitories and on school buses.
This year, HHMI awarded $60 million in grants to 48 colleges and universities to test some innovative approaches and find out if they work.
Take Edison Fowlks of Hampton University, who wants to recruit future science Ph.D. students to his historically black college the same way basketball coaches recruit future NBA players.
Or Norine E. Noonan of the College of Charleston, who wants to create “learning communities” where first-year students live, work, and breathe science from the classroom to the dorm room.
Or Jeffrey Bartz of Kalamazoo College, who will send his science students far and even worldwide to pursue their scientific dreams, rather than keep them on campus. “Our HHMI funds allow us to do something other universities think is a little bit nuts,” he says.
These are just a few examples of the wide-ranging experiments coming out of HHMI's 4-year science education grants to undergraduate colleges. “We want to help create successful models for teaching science that can spread throughout the higher education community,” says Peter J. Bruns, HHMI's vice president for grants and special programs.
The 2008 college grant winners are a diverse group—traditional liberal arts colleges, large state schools, small religious institutions, and historically black colleges and universities from 21 states and Puerto Rico—and they face an equally diverse set of challenges. Their experiments in science education match that wide range: alternative approaches to student research, new classes or majors that unite previously walled-off disciplines, better ways to excite precollege students about science, and unorthodox tactics for recruiting minorities traditionally underrepresented in science.
Photos: Matthew Septimus, John Noltner