$60 Million in Grants for Undergraduate Science Education

Posted on April 6, 2011  Comments (0)

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is challenging colleges and universities to think creatively about how they educate future scientists, science teachers, and a scientifically-literate public. The Institute has invited 215 undergraduate-focused colleges and universities from across the country to apply for a total of $60 million in science education grants. I am very happy that HHMI continues to help provide support for science education.

Sadly USA government leaders (local and national) have chosen to cut the importance they place on science education over the last few decades we have coasted on the gains we made in the 1960s and 1970s. That is no way to succeed. Thankfully a few foundations, with HHMI probably leading the way, and some great schools have kept the USA in a leadership position, but that leadership shrinks each year. And at the primary and secondary school level the USA dropped far back in the pack decades ago for science eduction The top countries in primary and secondary science education are now Finland, Hong Kong and Korea.

Since 1988, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded $820 million to 264 colleges and universities to support science education. Those grants have generally been awarded through two separate but complementary efforts, one aimed at undergraduate-focused institutions and the other at research universities. HHMI support has enabled more than 80,000 students nationwide to work in research labs and developed programs that have helped 95,000 K-12 teachers learn how to teach science more effectively.

The new grants will range from $800,000 to $1.6 million over four years for individual institutions and up to $4.8 million over four years for those applying jointly.

Related: Science Courses for the Next Generation$60 Million for Science Teaching at Liberal Arts Colleges in 2008The Importance of Science EducationGenomics Course For College Freshman Supported by HHMI at 12 Universities$600 Million for Basic Biomedical ResearchScience and technology leadership

The biggest change in the new 2012 competition is the requirement that applicants focus on a single educational goal that unites their proposed science education program. In the past, HHMI’s grants have allowed applicants to submit projects in four categories: student research, faculty development, curriculum and laboratory development, and outreach. Although schools were not expected to put forward a program in every category, Asai notes the modular design of the grant competition often led schools to “check the boxes” rather than encouraging them to think strategically about how these activities can help them reach an overarching science education objective.

Under the new guidelines, the grant proposal must support the institution’s larger science education goal. Asai hopes that this new, focused design will make it easier for grantees to measure and understand which components of a program are successful. “We want to get away from just counting the numbers of students who do research. We want to find out what you are doing that is making undergraduates better prepared to be successful as future scientists, teachers, or members of a scientifically literate public,” he says. “It is a harder question, but it is an important question.”

HHMI has adopted an approach that differs from that of many other organizations, including the federal government, because its awards are made at an institutional level and not to individuals and because a single grant can support a diverse spectrum of educational activities. As a result, HHMI requires science faculty and administrators at colleges and universities to work together to develop a common educational goal—something they might not do otherwise. Some HHMI grantees have said the process of bringing different parts of the university together to focus on science education can be as valuable as the grant itself. The grant can allow an institution to try new and untested ideas that could not be readily implemented without the HHMI funds.

Schools that have had four previous grants will be required to come up with funding for four percent of the grant. Those with five grants will need to fund eight percent, and those with six will need to fund 12 percent. Many schools are already doing this, but had not been asked to demonstrate and document their commitment. .

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