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“I felt sure that if I built something that addressed [the needs of students who were missing out],” David Bynum recalls, “institutional and financial support would follow.” He was right.
Today, HSTA is active in 26 West Virginia counties, where 124 community residents serve as members of volunteer governing boards. Nearly 800 students and 80 teachers participate in local science clubs, an annual statewide research symposium, and summer programs at WVU and other West Virginia university campuses. Another 750—more than two-thirds of whom were the first in their families to go to college—have completed the program and are attending college, university, or graduate or professional school.
In May 2006 alone, HSTA students earned 68 bachelor's degrees, 10 master's degrees, and 3 doctorates. Emme Chapman, from remote Hodam Mountain, received the HSTA's first medical degree.
According to a 2006 study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU, students who go through HSTA can expect to earn annual salaries on average almost $26,000 higher than their parents.
West Virginia isn't the only place where one person's resolve and a little seed money are changing lives. At the State University of New York, Stony Brook (now Stony Brook University), David Bynum found himself teaching biochemistry and cell biology in a community where enormous gaps existed between haves and have-nots, and the latter were largely absent from his classroom—and, more specifically, from science education and careers. Feeling a need to reach out to a more diverse group of potential science majors, he borrowed a lab to offer summer research opportunities to disadvantaged students at two nearby community colleges.
Using his first HHMI grant (awarded in 1994), Bynum then remodeled and outfitted two labs at Stony Brook specifically for his purposes. He developed a summer residential research program for students from three high schools in economically disadvantaged districts, and he turned another campus laboratory into a teaching center where middle and high school students could conduct hands-on biotechnology experiments. Learning by doing proved such a hit that during this first year more than 4,000 students participated.
Bynum also created three courses and several workshops for biology teachers. Demand was so great for these courses that he sought and received New York State approval to offer a master's degree in biology teaching rooted in hands-on science. Eventually, he parlayed an HHMI grant of $1 million into more than $10 million in external funding and complete buy-in from the university.
“David is just phenomenal,” says Shirley Strum Kenny, president of Stony Brook University. “It is incredible how he is able to bring kids to a love of science. He started small, and he built step by step. He's low-key and unassuming, but he knows where he wants to go, and he never wavers.”
Illustration: David Brinley