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HHMI’s new science education initiative is challenging colleges and universities to increase their capacity to engage all students in science.
HHMI’s new science education initiative is challenging colleges and universities to increase their capacity to engage all students in science.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is announcing a new $60 million science education grants initiative that is challenging colleges and universities to increase their capacity to engage all students in science.


In a significant departure from past initiatives, this competition is open to more than 1,500 U.S. institutions that offer baccalaureate degrees in the natural sciences – these include liberal arts colleges, master’s-granting universities, and research universities. Previous HHMI science education grants competitions for undergraduate schools were by invitation only and restricted to approximately 200 schools.

“We are taking a new approach because the pathways to and through higher education have changed and are not as ‘traditional’ or as linear as they once were,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian. “These days, a large number of students are arriving at college through remarkably diverse pathways. The scientific leader of tomorrow may be in a community college today or she may be a first-generation college student. Higher education should acknowledge these differences among students and create programs that offer diverse entry points and pathways to STEM degrees.”

HHMI plans to award approximately 60 grants in two open competitions, each of which will follow the same format. The first competition will result in approximately 30 awards that will begin in September 2017. The plan is for the second competition to be announced in 2016 with awards to begin in September 2018. All awards will be for five years and total $1 million.

In the 25 years since HHMI established its Undergraduate Science Education Program, the demographics of the United States have changed markedly. Ethnic “minorities,” which will soon be the majority, and persons from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly overrepresented among transfer and first-generation college students.

“Although transfer and first-generation students are an important part of the undergraduate talent pool in the United States, the current educational system, in many respects, is inadequate in enabling their success,” said Kurt L. Schmoke, Chairman of the HHMI Trustees and President of the University of Baltimore.

Widespread and effective science literacy is also critical for an informed public. “It is the best way to build a society whose citizens will be prepared to engage in evidence-based dialogue and are empowered in a world dependent on science and technology,” said HHMI Vice President Sean B. Carroll. “It is important that all students have the opportunity to participate in science in a meaningful way.”

Although more students from diverse backgrounds are entering college with an interest in STEM studies, many do not graduate with a STEM degree. And that lack of diversity also persists in the sciences. According to data from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Instituteexternal link, opens in a new tab, every year about 40 percent of freshmen enter college intending to study STEM. “By sophomore year, most of these students have switched to non-STEM disciplines,” said David Asai, Senior Director of Undergraduate and Graduate Programs at HHMI. “The window for engaging and supporting these students is incredibly short and we need to do better in confronting these challenges.”

The new HHMI initiative seeks to catalyze creative programs that use a collective approach to increase institutional resources, infrastructure, and expertise that support student success. HHMI expects that the ideas supported through this initiative will be connected solidly to broader institutional initiatives while maintaining focus on supporting the achievement of all undergraduate students in science. The depth of institutional commitment and support of the faculty at the applicant schools will be a critical factor.

“We are looking for schools with a mindset that encourages and fosters organizational learning,” said Asai. “Just as the sciences will benefit by welcoming diverse perspectives, we recognize that higher education will benefit from learning through diverse perspectives on how best to include all students. We are looking for new ideas that have high potential to amplify HHMI’s support and become the educational models of the future in this area.”

Institutions interested in participating in the competition will submit a pre-proposal that provides evidence that the institution is well suited to address the challenge. Each institution will need to describe the students they seek to support, the kinds of internal structures, policies, practices, and/or behaviors that will be changed to achieve that impact, and the approach the core team will take to do so.

The competition is open to four-year institutions that offer a baccalaureate degree in the natural sciences, are not-for-profit, and are accredited by their regional accrediting organization. Ineligible institutions include Associate’s Colleges and Special Focus Institutions (Carnegie Basic Classifications) and the 40 research universities awarded 2014 HHMI institutional science education grants.

An eligible institution is limited to one pre-proposal in one of two categories:

  • Building Capacity Within the Institution is for colleges and universities that will use and evaluate strategies to build their own institutional capacities.
  • Helping Others Build Capacity is for those institutions that have already implemented sustainable strategies that have led to measurably expanded inclusion and success of all students in science and now wish to assist other institutions, which meet the eligibility requirements for this competition, to achieve similar outcomes.

More information about this initiative can be found on the program website.


  • Intent to apply deadline: July 14, 2015
  • Pre-proposal application available: July 16, 2015
  • Pre-proposal deadline: December 1, 2015
  • Invitations to submit full proposals: May 2016
  • Full proposals deadline: October 2016
  • Announcement of awards: May 2017  


The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. 

HHMI’s Undergraduate Science Education Program – one of the longest running private initiatives – has long focused on catalyzing change at universities and colleges. For more than 25 years, the Institute has focused on transforming science education at universities and colleges in the United States by encouraging science teaching that is hands-on, research-oriented, and interdisciplinary.

Since 1988, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded more than $930 million in grants to 280 public and private colleges and universities to support science education in the United States. Those grants have generally been awarded through two separate but complementary efforts, one aimed at undergraduate-focused institutions and the other at research universities. HHMI support has enabled more than 95,000 students nationwide to work in research labs and developed programs that have helped 112,000 K-12 teachers learn how to teach science more effectively.