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UM receives 5th consecutive Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant for science education

CORAL GABLES, FL (May 21, 2010).The University of Miami (UM) has been selected to receive a $1.4 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to strengthen the UM undergraduate science education program. The College of Arts and Sciences, where the program resides, will use the resources to help attract first-generation college students and those from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences to pursue careers in science.

"HHMI is committed to funding education programs that excite students' interest in science," says HHMI President Robert Tjian. "We hope that these programs will shape the way students look at the worldwhether those students ultimately choose to pursue a career in science or not."

Since 1994, the University of Miami has benefited from $8 million from HHMI to build a highly successful Bridge program that helps students from nearby Miami Dade College (MDC) transfer to highly selective, four-year colleges and universities. Eighty-two percent of students in the program, which is partially funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, complete bachelor's degrees in the sciences.

"The United States needs more students to pursue careers in science. Consequently, for the past five years, the University of Miami and HHMI have partnered to help students who have not traditionally pursued careers in science complete bachelor's degrees, in preparation for graduate school in the sciences," says Thomas J. LeBlanc, UM executive vice president and provost. "We are delighted that this partnership between HHMI and the University of Miami will continue."

The Bridge program supports a dozen new Bridge scholars each year. About 30 percent go on to medical school, and more than a quarter enroll in Ph.D. programs, says Michael Gaines, professor of Biology, assistant provost and HHMI program director at UM. The new grant is directed at increasing the number seeking the Ph.D.

Bridge scholars take innovative inquiry-based laboratories at UM that were initiated with HHMI funding. They are joined by UM freshmen who are members of the elite Program in Integrated Science and Mathematics (PRISM). In the labs, student teams design and conduct original research to prepare them for research careers.

UM also reaches out to the families of Bridge scholars. "We felt it was really important to bring families in," says Gaines. "We know our Bridge scholars are more likely to choose careers in research if their parents support that choice."

As part of the MDC Bridge program, families of MDC students are invited to campus for "Family Science Sundays," where they conduct one-day research projects and interact with faculty members. Projects include using DNA fingerprinting to solve a mock crime and looking at the effects of pollutants on sea urchin development. "The parents love it," Gaines says. "They gain a better understanding of what it means to be a research scientist and have fun, to boot," he notes.

Over the next four years, Gaines and his team will extend their outreach to students beyond the sciences at UM with a new course, "Molecules of Life." The course will combine chemistry, biology, and medicine by focusing on a concrete issue, diabetes. The goals are to improve scientific literacy and to enhance understanding of research.

UM is one of 50 research universities in 30 states and the District of Columbia that will be awarded a total of $70 million through the HHMI undergraduate program. The schools will use the grants, which range from $800,000 to $2 million over four years, to develop creative, research-based courses and curricula; to give more students vital experience working in the lab; and to improve science teaching from elementary school through college.


Contact: Marie Guma-Diaz
University of Miami

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