The University of North Texas (UNT) knows its unique student population. It has the largest number of transfer students in Texas, and half of its students qualify for federal financial aid. That means many students are forced to fill their “free” time with paying jobs instead of laboratory research.
With those students in mind, UNT will use a portion of its first $1.3 million HHMI grant to encourage a successful transition for students from community colleges to the four-year school and expand research opportunities to more students.
The HHMI Transitions Summer Workshop will bring first-year community college students to UNT each summer for a five-week program teaching academic success skills and introducing research methods. Part two of the program, the HHMI Transitions Summer Research Experience, will provide second-year community college students with faculty-mentored summer research experiences.
UNT also intends to create the Classroom Research Laboratory (CRL) to offer classes modeled on HHMI’s National Genomics Research Initiative, in which students are engaged in authentic research experiences under the close supervision of teaching faculty. The CRL will enable the addition of four new research laboratory courses. It will also enable expansion of the freshman-level mycobacteriophage genomics laboratory course UNT began offering this year as a member of HHMI’s Science Education Alliance. With this new space, up to 72 additional students per semester will have a research experience.
“It’s real research; we don’t know what the answers will be,” says Lee H. Hughes, assistant professor of biology and UNT’s HHMI program director. “Providing this class means we can get students excited and maybe they’ll go on to do more research in another faculty member’s lab,” he adds.
The HHMI Undergraduate Researchers Program will provide financial support for UNT juniors and seniors for one year in a biology or biochemistry lab. For example, UNT students might address the question of how bacteria respond to stress. Researchers have identified genes that are involved in stress responses but not what role they play.
“Exposure to research is invaluable,” says Hughes. “Students can take those experiences and it will jumpstart their future graduate careers or whatever path they take with biology.”