Gonzaga University is among 48 of the nation’s best undergraduate institutions that will share $60 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to help usher in a new era of science education in the United States, HHMI announced Tuesday.
Science faculty believe the grant will transform the way Gonzaga teaches science. Photo by Jennifer Raudebaugh/copyright Gonzaga U.
Gonzaga’s first-ever grant from the HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Program totals $1.2 million and is expected to literally transform the Jesuit, Catholic university’s already successful science programs and nearly triple research opportunities for undergraduates.
“The undergraduate years are vital to attracting and retaining students who will be the future of science,” said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. “We want students to experience science as the creative, challenging, and rewarding endeavor that it is.”
Specifically, the grant will: a) increase undergraduate research opportunities at Gonzaga from approximately 20-25 annually to more than 60 per year; b) increase the quantitative and computational literacy of Gonzaga students in large part through the hiring of two new faculty who will each teach quantitative and computational classes (currently not offered) and advise undergraduates; and c) increase scientific literacy and college admissions for traditionally underserved populations in the region.
Also, the grant will provide for research stipends for undergraduates during the summer and the academic year; create new courses in quantitative biology, genomics and scientific writing; allow for the hiring of a research coordinator and for the training of all existing faculty in computational sciences; and will bring Gonzaga students and hands-on experiments into the region’s K-12 classrooms, especially in the low-income classrooms in Spokane and in regional Native American communities.
Faculty in Gonzaga’s chemistry and biology departments strive to train students in the modern sciences and instill a sense of service so graduates can become leaders in biology, chemistry and medicine. Gonzaga’s science faculty currently work closely with students in the classrooms, the research lab and through specialized outreach efforts. The grant will allow Gonzaga to more effectively integrate the sciences with the goals of the larger University to produce alumni with deep science knowledge, a solid liberal arts foundation and a commitment to being engaged and constructive citizens of the world.
Biology Professor and Program Director Nancy Staub said this very prestigious grant will be “transformative” for Gonzaga’s sciences. As Gonzaga has become a household name through the ongoing excellence of men’s basketball, this grant will put Gonzaga’s science programs on the national radar as well, Staub said.
“Being awarded an HHMI grant is like having our basketball team go off to the ‘Big Dance’: this puts Gonzaga on the map. But here it’s a win-win situation. Our undergraduates will benefit because many more research opportunities will be available,” Staub said. “With the recent growth of the student body we have many more students interested in research than we have been able to accommodate. To train our students to be scientists they really need to do science and our HHMI grant will allow more students to do this in a meaningful way. We will now have a critical mass of student researchers both during the academic year and the summer. With the addition of new faculty members in biology and chemistry we will be able to offer courses, and research opportunities, in emerging fields, such as in computational biology.”
Other winners from the grant include K-12 students in the Inland Northwest as the HHMI award includes support for science outreach programs. “One consequence of these programs is that talented science majors are recruited into the education field, another win-win situation,” Staub said. “We have strong programs in the sciences here and are thrilled with this opportunity to build on that foundation and go up to the next level.”
The new faculty are expected to allow for expansion of the undergraduate curricula in biology and chemistry to include more aspects of modern quantitative and computational biology and chemistry. The money is expected to also allow Gonzaga to expand its successful summer research program to more than double the current research opportunities for students.
Many of the new components of Gonzaga’s science programs will be tied together with a new program called the Research Option, which will provide additional advising and require research experiences, quantitative classes and participation in outreach for highly motivated students who are interested in research.
Gonzaga was selected as a grant recipient through a stringent review process by distinguished scientists and educators that narrowed the 192 applicants down to 48 grant recipients. HHMI invited 224 colleges with a track record of preparing undergraduate students for research careers to submit proposals.
HHMI is the nation’s largest private supporter of science education. It has invested more than $1.2 billion in grants to reinvigorate life science education at both research universities and liberal arts colleges and to engage the nation’s leading scientists in teaching.
One of the world’s largest philanthropies, HHMI is a nonprofit medical research organization that employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefront of their fields. HHMI has an endowment of approximately $18.7 billion. Its headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Md., just outside Washington, D.C.
For more information, please contact Gonzaga biology Professor Nancy Staub, Gonzaga’s program director for the grant, at (509) 323-6636. For more information about HHMI, contact Andrea Widener at 301-215-8807 or via e-mail.