Luther College receives $1.5 million grant for science education

May 24, 2012          

CHEVY CHASE, Md. – The Howard Hughes Medical Institute announced today it has selected Luther College as one of 47 small colleges and universities in the United States to receive grants totaling more than $50 million that will enable the schools to work together to create more engaging science classes, bring real-world research experiences to students and increase the diversity of students who study science.

Each four-year grant is in the range of $800,000 to $1.5 million, funds that will have a big impact at these primarily undergraduate institutions. Luther College has been awarded a $1.5 million grant and is one of eight schools receiving a first-time HHMI award.

Robert Tjian, HHMI President, stated that the small size of most of these schools can make them more nimble than larger research universities and better able to quickly develop and test new ideas.

Luther is one of five schools to receive a HHMI award in the Preparing Future K-12 Teachers program. Others were Lewis & Clark College - $1 million, St. Olaf College - $1 million, University of Puerto Rico - $900,000, and Whittier College - $800,000.

Awards were granted to support strategies that include providing authentic research experiences to students who will become teachers, engaging undergraduates in K-12 outreach activities and creating joint faculty appointments shared by education and science departments.

Tjian said a key component of the HHMI grant program is the incentive for these institutions to work collaboratively.

"Collaboration is a vital activity that drives science forward," said Tjian. "We believe that collaboration among institutions can have a similar catalytic effect on science  education, and we look forward to seeing these schools work together to develop new science and teaching programs that inspire their students."

Luther President Richard Torgerson spoke about the excitement and enthusiasm the HHMI grant has generated on campus.

"We are deeply grateful to HHMI for this award that will provide extraordinary opportunity and resources to link two of Luther's signature programs — the sciences and teacher education," President Torgerson said.

"Collectively, the science departments and education department graduate over 25 percent of Luther students.  The HHMI award provides a major boost to new initiatives that will transform science education and prepare our students to become future teacher-leaders in science education in the nation's secondary and elementary schools," he said.

President Torgerson noted that Luther recently completed a $30 million expansion and renovation of its science facilities, which are designed to encourage and promote student-faculty interaction both within and outside the classroom and laboratory. The initiatives funded by the HHMI award will accelerate and enhance those interactions between the science and education disciplines.

Sean B. Carroll, vice president of science education at HHMI, stated that the award is an investment in the colleges and universities that are developing these innovative approaches.

“What happens during the undergraduate years is vital to the development of the student, whether she will be a scientist, a science educator, or a member of society who is scientifically curious and literate," Carroll said.

"HHMI is investing in these schools because they have shown they are superb incubators of new ideas and models that might be replicated by other institutions to improve how science is taught in college," he said. "We know that these schools have engaged faculty. They care deeply about teaching and how effectively their students are learning about science."

President Torgerson lauded the work of the Luther team of faculty and staff who developed the proposal for the science-education initiatives to be funded by the HHMI award.

The team included: Eric Baack, assistant professor of biology; Scott Carlson, associate professor of biology; Mark Eichinger, associate professor of biology; Jodi Enos-Berlage, associate professor of biology; Barb Bohach, associate professor of education; Deb Fordice, assistant professor of education, Jim Langholz, associate professor of education; Birgitta Meade, instructor in education; Deborah Norland, professor of education; Richard Bernatz, professor of mathematics; Brad Chamberlain, associate professor of chemistry; Erin Flater, assistant professor of physics; and Jeanie Lovell, director of corporate and foundation relations.

More than 30 Luther faculty members from seven academic departments were involved in the conversations leading to a comprehensive grant proposal that was developed over five months during the summer and fall of 2011. The result of that interdisciplinary collaboration was a proposal with initiatives that are outcomes-based, grounded in research, and designed to prepare leaders in science education.

"I commend our faculty leaders for the extraordinary time and energy they devoted to completing this winning proposal," said President Torgerson. "The proposed initiatives build from institutional strengths and reflect important academic priorities.  The process has also generated a timely focus on science education and stimulated thoughtful dialogue and creative strategies."

Long-Term Collaboration

HHMI officials noted that this science education initiative is designed to encourage long-term collaboration among the colleges and universities. As the schools carry out their programs, they will have the opportunity to discuss strategies regularly with other schools working on a similar problem.

The principal activities of the programs are grouped into six strategic themes:

•  Preparing undergraduates to become K-12 teachers who understand inquiry-based learning

•  Creating curricula that emphasize learning competencies instead of simply checklists of courses

•  Defining and assessing what it means for a student to be scientifically literate

•  Developing effective strategies that promote the persistence of all students in science

•  Creating course-based research experiences that will help students learn science by doing authentic research

•  Encouraging students to engage in research through "one-on-one" apprentice-based experiences

"The strategic theme-based approach is a new opportunity that enables the grantees to organize into smaller groups so that faculty from schools can come together throughout the next four years to share ideas, challenges, solutions," said David J. Asai, director of HHMI's precollege and undergraduate program.

"We anticipate that the theme-based programs will provide useful models that will inform other institutions, including larger research universities, about strategies that might be replicated," Asai said.

Last April, HHMI invited 215 schools to apply for the competition. Of those invited, 187 schools submitted 182 proposals (two proposals were for joint programs). After two rounds of peer review, Asai and his team convened a panel of 23 leading scientists to discuss and rank the 84 final proposals.

"Based on the reviewers' comments and the panel discussion, we recommended 43 awards to 47 schools. One of those is a joint award to the five Claremont colleges," Asai said.

Among the 43 grants are 11 Capstone Awards made to long-time recipients of HHMI funding. These schools, collectively among the best in the country at producing graduates who go on to science careers, will assess which elements of their various approaches to science education have been successful and why.

"There is an enormous trove of know-how and wisdom at these schools, and we would like to see how that information can be shared more broadly," said Asai. "We are looking forward to seeing how the Capstone awardees can provide leadership to some of the other grantees who are new to HHMI, as well as to advise HHMI about our efforts in undergraduate science education."

One of the significant changes in the 2012 competition was the requirement that each application focus on a single overarching objective that defines the context for the proposed activities. In the past, applications were organized around four -- often disconnected -- components.

Asai noted the previous modular design often led schools to "check the boxes" rather than encouraging them to think strategically about how the activities will contribute to a science education objective. Asai said the focused design of the proposals will hopefully make it easier for grantees to measure and understand their progress.

"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 said.

Undergraduate Science Education and HHMI

Since 1988, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded more than $870 million to 274 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 nearly 85,000 students nationwide to work in research labs and developed programs that have helped 100,000 K-12 teachers learn how to teach science more effectively.

HHMI's approach differs from that of many other organizations, including the federal government, because its science education awards are made at an institutional level and not to individuals. As a result, HHMI encourages science faculty and administrators at colleges and universities to work together to develop common educational goals. HHMI grants can allow an institution to try new and untested ideas that could not be readily implemented without the HHMI funds.

HHMI's grants to small colleges and universities—the Institute's longest running science education program—have had an important impact on undergraduate science education in the United States in several important ways:

•  Hands-on Research Is Expected: HHMI support has enabled many small schools to offer research opportunities to a large fraction of their undergraduates, even to the extent that students at some schools expect it. HHMI funds help schools support faculty mentors, thereby expanding the research capacity of an institution.

•  Infusion of Teaching Talent: Schools have used HHMI support to recruit science faculty, who bring novel ideas and expertise. The faculty often work and teach in areas new to the school, thereby creating new opportunities in the curriculum and research.

•  New Courses and Curricula: Undergraduate schools have used HHMI funds to develop courses that give their students exposure to newly emerging fields of science – often at the interfaces of traditional scientific disciplines.

2012 HHMI Colleges Initiative Awards

The following institutions of higher education have been awarded grants through the 2012 HHMI Colleges Initiative.

Preparing Future K-12 Teachers

Strategies include providing authentic research experiences to students who will become teachers, engaging undergraduates in K-12 outreach activities, and creating joint faculty appointments shared by education and science departments.

Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Ore., $1 million

Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, $1.5million

St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., $1 million

University of Puerto Rico–Cayey, Cayey, Puerto Rico, $900,000

Whittier College, Whittier, Calif., $800,000

Competency-based Curricula

Proposed programs include implementing the recommendations of the Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians report (AAMC-HHMI, 2009), recruiting new faculty who will teach in interdisciplinary areas, and creating inquiry-based learning opportunities throughout the curriculum.

Allegheny College, Meadville, Pa., $1.5 million

Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pa., $1 million

Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, $1million

Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn., $1.3 million

Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss., $1.4 million

Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, $800,000

Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, $1.3 million

Xavier University, New Orleans, La., $1 million

Defining and Assessing Scientific Literacy

Strategies include identifying the elements that contribute to scientific literacy among students, developing scientific teaching pedagogical skills among faculty, and providing science students an understanding of the ethical and political impacts of science.

Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., $800,000

Hunter College, New York, N.Y., $1 million

San Francisco State University, San Francisco, Calif., $1.5 million

Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pa., $800,000

Persistence of All Students

Programs to encourage the success in science of students from all backgrounds. Strategies include research experiences, mini-grants for faculty mentoring, pre-freshman "bridge" programs, curriculum redesign, and faculty and staff training.

The five colleges based in Claremont, Calif. (Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona, and Scripps) submitted a joint proposal with the broad goal of working together to develop programs that will prepare undergraduates to become leaders in science and medicine. The schools, which have a combined population of 650 faculty and over 5,000 undergraduates, aim to emphasize quantitative and computational approaches in their life science courses.

"In this competition, we initiated the joint proposal idea because we think that it will be increasingly important for small institutions to work together to remain excellent in science education," said HHMI President Asai.

Barnard College, New York, N.Y., $1 million

California State University–Fullerton, Fullerton, Calif., $1.2 million

Carleton College, Northfield, Minn., $1 million

Carroll College, Helena, Mont., $1 million

Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pa., $1.4 million

Georgetown College, Georgetown, Ky., $1.1 million

The Claremont Colleges: Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Pomona College, and Scripps College, Claremont, Calif., $3.6 million

University of Minnesota–Morris, Morris, Minn., $1.2 million

University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico $1.3 million

University of Richmond, Richmond, Va., $1.4 million

University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg, Texas, $1.2 million

Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va., $1 million

CUREs (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences)

Approaches include expanding the HHMI SEA-PHAGES course to all first-year science students, and integrating authentic research modules throughout the curriculum.

Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pa., $1.3 million

Gonzaga University, Spokane, Wash., $1.2 million

Hope College, Holland, Mich., $1 million

North Carolina Central University, Durham, N.C., $1.4 million

Smith College, Northampton, Mass., $1 million

Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, Miss., $1.3 million

Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Ala., $1 million

AUREs (Apprentice-based Undergraduate Research Experiences)

These schools will provide research experiences as a vehicle to enhance how students learn science.

College of Charleston, Charleston, S.C., $1.4 million

Hamline University, St. Paul, Minn., $1.1 million

Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pa., $1 million

Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., $800,000

Morehouse College, Atlanta, Ga., $800,000

Spelman College, Atlanta, Ga., $1 million

Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa., $1 million

Capstone Awards

These schools are recognized for their sustained excellence and important contributions to undergraduate science education.  Over the next four years, the Capstone awardees will have the opportunity to engage in a summative assessment of their programs, identifying key strategies that have helped them overcome barriers. Their experiences will enable the Capstone schools to provide leadership to other grantee institutions.

Barnard College

Bryn Mawr College

Carleton College

Grinnell College

Hope College

Hunter College

Morehouse College

Smith College

Spelman College

Swarthmore College

Xavier University