Cal State Long Beach President Robert C. Maxson has announced that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the nation's largest private supporter of science education, has awarded the university a four-year, $1.6 million grant to create a research-based honors program in the biological sciences and biochemistry.
In all, 53 grants totaling $50.3 million were awarded to colleges and universities in 22 states and Puerto Rico for undergraduate biological sciences education. The Institute originally invited 224 institutions to submit proposals, and an external panel of scientists and educators reviewed the 204 proposals received.
"The college and universities receiving these grants contribute greatly to the education of both scientists and nonscientists," said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. "These grants will help them do what they do best-providing undergraduate research opportunities and building bridges between the sciences and the humanities."
Of the 53 grants awarded, Cal State Long Beach received the second largest. In addition, the CSULB grant was one of just five given to California institutions and one of only two awarded to a California State University campus.
"This grant will be extremely beneficial to a number of our undergraduate science students," said Maxson. "The resulting honors program will provide students an opportunity to gain valuable research experience, encourage them to pursue graduate studies, and give them a better understanding of existing career opportunities in the life sciences."
With the grant, the university's College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics is initiating the Honors in Biological Sciences Program for undergraduate students in biological sciences and biochemistry. Margaret Merryfield, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is serving as program director.
"This program will have a curriculum that stretches from the freshman year through the senior year and includes a senior thesis," Merryfield noted. "It will also allow the students, from the very beginning of their academic careers, to learn more about what being a life scientist is all about."
A major component of the program is the research experience. Students will commit to at least one year of research, including a 10-week full-time experience during the summer, which will culminate the program. Once the research is completed, students will submit a senior thesis written as a scientific article, and they will be required to present their work publicly either at a professional meeting or a local venue.
Merryfield and her colleagues are also creating a small number of courses for the honors program that will improve students' critical thinking, writing and oral communication skills as well as their ability to think like scientists.
"We have a course that will explore some of the biotechnology tools that life scientists use in their jobs. It is tentatively titled `Bioinformatics,'" Merryfield pointed out. "We also thought we could take this opportunity to talk about information access tools. There are some very powerful data bases in the life sciences that students need to be able to use."
Through the program's enhanced curriculum, Merryfield and her colleagues are hoping to increase the retention of students in life science majors by emphasizing from the very beginning the excitement of science, its discoveries and ideas, and the work that scientists do.
The program also includes a faculty development component where faculty members will be able to strengthen their teaching and mentoring skills and develop skills needed to revise the curriculum.
Lead faculty members involved with initiating the honors program include: James Archie, professor of biological sciences, who is developing the bioinformatics course; Laura Kingsford, professor and chair of biological sciences, who is leading the faculty development effort; and Marco Lopez, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, charged with the component to broaden student access to science.
Other team members include Andrew Mason, professor of biological sciences, who is developing the research design and methods course; Douglas McAbee, , assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who is the lead in the student research area; and Antonia Wijte, assistant professor of biological sciences, who is responsible for the freshman seminar and thesis courses.
HHMI's grants program supports science education in the United States and a select group of researchers in other countries. Altogether, the institute has awarded more than $1 billion in grants, primarily to enhance science education from preschool through postdoctoral studies.
"These grants help ensure that the coming generation of scientists and educators will be able to tap the enormous potential of the Web, genomic databases and other technological advances in biological research and teaching," said Joseph G. Perpich, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. "These grants also help bring the extraordinary excitement of today's biology to undergraduate students."
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