The first class of 20 Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) professors accomplished so much that HHMI is looking for some more like them—innovative research scientists who want to incorporate the excitement of research in undergraduate education. One hundred research universities are being invited to nominate one or two of their best scientist-educators. In 2006, up to 20 will be named HHMI professors and receive four-year awards of $1 million each. The HHMI professors are part of the Institute’s long-term plan for improving science education at all levels, to help generate the next generation of research scientists, as well as a more science-literate public. To date, HHMI has awarded more than $600 million to public and private colleges and universities, as well as $20 million to HHMI professors. The new HHMI professors will have big shoes to fill. The first professors, chosen in 2002, have shared the excitement of scientific research and discovery with undergraduates and others in a wide variety of ways. For example:
- Northwestern University’s Hilary Godwin used to worry over the fact that so few minorities take freshman chemistry. She is changing that with a course based on her own research into the molecular mechanism of lead poisoning, engaging incoming freshmen by sending them into Chicago’s community gardens to analyze soil samples for lead.
- Columbia University’s Darcy Kelley has created a course on hot topics in science, including origins of life, the future of the planet, and the evolution of language. The course is required of every entering student.
- Bob Goldberg of UCLA puts undergraduates on his campus and in Japan to work manipulating the genes that tell a seed what to become.
- Graham Hatfull of the University of Pittsburgh turns high school students into phage-hunters. Working with soil samples from backyards, barnyards, and even the monkey pit at the Bronx Zoo, they have identified more than 30 new bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria. Hatfull and his high school students were co-authors with HHMI investigator William R. Jacobs on a research paper in the journal Cell .
“We have been impressed with the range of creative projects the professors have undertaken to energize undergraduate education, including offering students new opportunities to learn modern biology in laboratory settings similar to those of research scientists,” said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. After winning the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry , Cech continued teaching and mentoring undergraduates for another decade at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “The HHMI professors and their projects are having a significant impact on the quality of undergraduate science education at their home institutions and nationally ,” said Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. “They are writing about their educational experiments in journals such as Science , giving workshops, training their graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to value teaching, and serving on curriculum revision committees.” The professors who received awards in 2002 are being invited to submit renewal applications to continue especially successful programs, to develop sustainable institutional support for their programs, and to disseminate materials and strategies to the science education community. They will not be eligible for nomination in the 2006 competition. The research universities invited to nominate HHMI professors in the new competition were chosen on the basis of their records in preparing students for graduate education in science and careers in scientific research and medicine. The deadline for nominations is May 2, 2005. Nominees must submit proposals by September 7, 2005. A panel of distinguished scientists, educators, and HHMI staff will review the proposals, evaluating the impact of the proposed program in enriching undergraduate science education and involving increasing numbers of undergraduates—including non-science majors, women and underrepresented minority students—in research or other inquiry-based activities. They will also look at the quality of the applicant’s research and educational accomplishments and the potential for the proposed program to serve as a model in other settings. Awards will be made in May 2006.