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The HHMI education program at the University of Washington is a three-part initiative focused on improving the performance and increasing the retention of early-career undergraduates interested in STEM majors, with a particular emphasis on women in male-dominated fields, underrepresented minorities (URMs), and students from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The three initiatives are all grouped under HHMI's Introductory Courses and Curriculum Development theme and comprise: 1) a new Freshman Interest Group (FIG) course designed around evidence-based interventions that build study skills and identity as a STEM professional-in-training; 2) a comprehensive restructuring of the introductory biology and chemistry sequences so that all six of these courses include pre-class preparation, intensive active learning exercises in class, and weekly exam practice; and 3) the development and implementation of authentic research experiences in the introductory biology series. In addition, this 'STEM-Dawgs' program will sponsor weekly, quarterly, and annual events designed to increase personal contact between faculty and students and encourage early-career undergraduates to pursue intensive, mentored research experiences.

Currently, a large proportion of the URM students entering the University of Washington take a FIG the first fall of their freshman year. The new STEM-Dawgs FIG will be a modified version that is explicitly designed to increase performance in the entrée course in the general chemistry series in addition to building general study and professional skills and that will be offered every quarter of the year. The course will be organized around research-based interventions with known benefits for undergraduate emotional engagement, academic achievement, resilience, and professional identity.

The introductory biology series at UW is already internationally recognized as a leader in innovative curriculum, with documented benefits for all students and a disproportionate impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. With support from HHMI, these innovations will be extended and assessed in four additional courses, giving prospective STEM majors a comprehensive, evidence-based learning experience for the entire introductory biology and chemistry series.

The HHMI-funded authentic research experiences are based on experimental evolution in the bacterium Escherichia coli. Using this system, students will be able to design original experiments to document how the bacteria evolve in response to specific conditions different suites of antibiotics, one or more viruses that parasitize E. coli, and/or changes in physical conditions ranging from temperature to acidity. In addition to designing and implementing the experimental set-up, students will be able to explore outcomes using tools ranging from competition experiments in the lab to sequencing specific genes. The goal is to engage freshman and sophomores in work that represents cutting edge science, potentially has applications for public health, and builds confidence and an enduring skill set for budding STEM professionals.

Taken together, the three HHMI-funded initiatives have the potential to transform the first two years of the undergraduate experience for over 3000 students a year; almost 30% of whom are the first in their family to attend college. The STEM Dawgs program is bringing UW students, staff, and faculty together in new and powerful ways.

For More Information

Scott Freeman, Ph.D.
University of Washington
Department of Biology
HCK 426
Seattle, WA 98195-0001

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