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SEA's Second Wave
by Andrea Widener
Twelve more schools join HHMI'S Science Education Alliance.
Like many colleges and universities, Calvin College
is constantly searching for ways to provide more students with the
exciting experience of real scientific discovery. “We have younger
and younger students inquiring about research experiences,” says
Randall DeJong, a biology professor at the small Christian school in
Grand Rapids, Michigan.
That's why DeJong was thrilled when Calvin was one of 12 colleges
and universities chosen to participate in the National Genomics
Research Initiative, a year-long course that involves students in scientific discovery on a national scale. The course, now entering its second
year, is a program of HHMI's Science Education Alliance (SEA).
The course allows students to make real discoveries in a classroom setting by doing research on bacterial viruses, called phages.
In their first term, the students identify and grow colonies of phages
from local soil samples. Phages are so diverse that each student's
discovery is likely a new life form, which the students get to name.
They spend the rest of the semester characterizing the phage and
purifying its DNA, which is then sent off for sequencing. In the second term, students use bioinformatics tools to analyze their
phage's DNA and identify the genes encoded there.
After just one semester, faculty from the first 12 participating
schools say they could never go back to teaching science the way
they used to. “The students don't know what the outcome will be,
they don't know whether the experiments will work—and indeed,
the first time most did not. The students really have to work things
out. And that was fantastic,” says Kit Pogliano, a biology professor at
the University of California, San Diego.
The class itself has been a quick success, with higher student retention in the SEA classes and, in some cases, higher grades for SEA
students in their introductory biology courses. But that's not the best part
for the participating faculty. “It is pretty exciting to be part of a group of
institutions that is trying to improve science education,” DeJong says.
“We want to be part of that discussion.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.hhmi.org/news/20090108sea.html for a list of the 12 new institutions.