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September 17, 1998

Undergrad science gets $1.8 million grant from Howard Hughes institute

Undergraduate science education initiatives in a variety of arts and sciences departments at Pitt have been awarded a grant of $1.8 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). HHMI, a medical research organization, employs scientists in cell biology, genetics, immunology, neuroscience and structural biology. It supports science education in the United States and a select group of researchers abroad through a complementary grants program. The money given to the University was part of $91 million in grants awarded to 58 universities nationally.

"Getting this grant is just spectacular," said Lynne A. Hunter, program director for HHMI undergraduate research grants and director of undergraduate programs in the Department of Biological Sciences. "Our proposal to HHMI was truly a collaborative effort between the departments of biological sciences, chemistry, neuroscience, computer science and physics. This will help us continue to build on our established programs in undergraduate education and outreach and to expand into new areas as well," Hunter said.

The money will go to further undergraduate research fellowships in both the summer and traditional academic year, to fund an undergraduate internship program and to continue outreach activities to local high school science teachers. Funds also will be used to develop curriculum in biophysical chemistry, purchase equipment, renovate student labs, fund a joint-use computer lab in chemistry and biology and support undergraduate research in computational biology at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC).

"Collaborating with the PSC is an incredible opportunity. We'll be developing courses in computational biology, encouraging undergraduate research using supercomputers, and having PSC staff teach courses," Hunter said.

Outreach activities also will get a boost from this HHMI grant, allowing biological sciences to continue to expand its successful High School Teacher Workshop Program. "This is a fabulous opportunity for teachers," Hunter said. "By spending time at our Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology, or in labs on our Oakland campus, teachers get a view of what's current in science, the most up-to-date technologies and methods in molecular biology." According to Hunter, the workshops also show teachers how to incorporate new information into their curriculum and they provide them with science kits to be used in the classroom. During the past school year, more than a thousand students used Pitt DNA science kits as part of their classroom instruction. Biological sciences, in association with the Carnegie Museum and the Graduate School of Public Health, has also proposed summer science camps for local middle and high school students as part of an outreach program.

"The Howard Hughes Medical Institute's undergraduate grants program, which is now entering its second decade, is having a major impact on how biology and related disciplines are taught at the college level," said Purnell W. Choppin, president of the institute. "Large numbers of students are getting involved in original research projects. They're experiencing themselves why biology is so exciting and important. It's an experience that will serve them well even if they decide to pursue careers in other fields."

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 2

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