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Undergraduate biology instruction garners $1.8 million Hughes grant

By Dave Jones on June 23, 2006 in University

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded $1.8 million over four years to the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences to support initiatives in undergraduate biology instruction.

Part of the money will help support the Biology Undergraduate Scholars Program, which provides intensive mentoring, support and research lab work opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"We need to think more scientifically about teaching," said Ken Burtis, principal investigator on the Hughes grant and interim dean of the college. He developed several of the planned teacher-strengthening programs based on concepts from a biology education workshop that he attended last summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Biological Undergraduate Scholars Program, or BUSP, helps students stay on track; some of the students may be the first in their families to attend college. Program participants take additional classes in math and chemistry, develop basic lab skills, meet regularly with mentors and one another, and are encouraged to form support networks. They also take part in seminars on professional skills and career development.

The Hughes grant will cover the costs of about 25 BUSP students. The costs for 15 to 20 others will be funded by the recent renewal of a grant from the National Institute for General Medical Sciences Initiative for Minority Student Diversity.

With the rest of the Hughes grant, Burtis plans to fund some new ideas to boost biology instruction. Among other things, the college will organize a seminar series on mentoring undergraduates and, with the Department of Physics, set up a cross-campus effort to work on the lower-division physics curriculum for biology majors.

In addition, newly hired professors will receive money to spend on training designed to improve their instruction, say, through workshops or by hiring assistants to aid in curriculum development.

Burtis also plans to send more faculty members to the Hughes-backed National Academy of Sciences Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education in Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and to arrange for campus visits by scientists renowned for research and teaching.

The Hughes grant to UC Davis was one of 50 totaling $86.4 million awarded by the institute June 1 to support undergraduate science education.

The General Medical Sciences Initiative for Minority Student Diversity grant, secured by Barbara Horwitz, covers graduate and undergraduate students. Horwitz is a professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior in the College of Biological Sciences, and is the campus's vice provost for academic personnel.

In addition to supporting the BUSP, the General Medical Sciences Initiative grant will cover the costs of about 10 students in graduate groups with biomedical orientations, such as genetics, physiology, cell and developmental biology and nutrition. Students in the program meet regularly as a group with Horwitz and give regular seminar presentations.

The program gives the graduate groups the flexibility to take on students who have high potential but may not have high test scores, Horwitz said.

"We want these kids to be successful," she said. "The advantage is that it allows us to bring students in and they do incredibly well."

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556, dljones@ucdavis.edu

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