Grants to Bolster Biology Education

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), best known for picking elite researchers and providing them with generous funding, announced today that it is making a huge investment in the next generation of potential Hughes investigators. It will provide the largest grant in U.S. history to support undergraduate education in biology: $91.1 million to 58 universities. The new grants, which range from $1.2 million to $2.2 million over 4 years, will boost an undergraduate science program that HHMI launched 10 years ago.

Existing HHMI-funded programs range from a Biology Scholars Program at the University of California, Berkeley, which reaches out to women and minorities underrepresented in the life sciences, to one that matches undergraduates with more than 230 faculty members conducting lab research at the University of Arizona, Tucson. This latest initiative will serve "to train the next generation" of biologists, says Joseph Perpich, HHMI's vice president for grants and special programs. "But it's also to provide very strong biology education to anyone who wants it."

One of the four newcomers to HHMI's grants program, Clemson University in South Carolina, plans to spend its $1.6 million grant on a combined effort among the biology, education, and earth science departments in training middle and high school teachers in hands-on biology methods. The University of Arizona, one of two schools receiving the maximum grant of $2.2 million, will also use some of its money to support teacher training. It plans a sabbatical program in which high school science teachers will spend a year on campus studying science.

Researchers are universally enthusiastic about the dramatic impact the funds could have on science education. "I'm 100% behind these undergraduate science grants," says Shirley Tilghman, a biologist at Princeton University and a Hughes investigator. She says the grants stimulate university faculty by giving them the funds to reduce the size of lab sections and implement innovative teaching methods.