Carleton Selected to Participate in $50 Million Science Education Initiative

Originally posted: May 25, 2012

Carleton College is one of 47 small colleges and universities nationwide to earn a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant 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.

The four-year, $1 million grant will support the project Towards an Integrative STEM Education: Strengthening Transfer and Application of Learning.

In making the award, HHMI described its grant to Carleton as a “capstone” award, recognizing the College’s sustained excellence and important contributions to undergraduate science education. “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 David J. Asai, director of HHMI’s precollege and undergraduate program. “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.”

Associate professor Joe Chihade, project director and member of the chemistry department and the biochemistry program, says that the grant helps Carleton remain a leader nationally in science education. “HHMI’s continuing support will be crucial as we take the lessons we’ve learned over the past several years and begin to apply them to new, broader, initiatives. Our overall goal is helping students integrate material from all of their science math experiences into a body of knowledge that extends into their lives outside the classroom,” he said. “Funding from this grant will help provide opportunities for students to practice using this knowledge through involvement in authentic scientific research, civic engagement, teaching and real-world problem solving.”

Carleton President Steven G. Poskanzer expressed his appreciation to HHMI for the grant award and looked ahead to what it means for the College. “The HHMI grant reflects and reinforces Carleton’s important and cherished leadership role in science teaching and learning,” he said. “The College looks forward to making a distinctive contribution to the overall efforts of HHMI to advance undergraduate science.”

Dean of the College Beverly Nagel said that the grant award is the result of years of faculty planning and project development. “Carleton science and math faculty are developing ongoing ways to improve teaching and learning, as well helping talented and increasingly diverse students succeed in STEM fields,” she said. “The grant will help ensure that Carleton remains a leader in preparing students for advanced degrees in math and science, as well a leader in assisting all graduates to understand the role of science in a modern society.”

For the first time, HHMI is designing its grant program awards to encourage long-term collaboration among the grantee institutions. As the colleges 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, with Carleton included in the category of “Persistence of All Students.” The colleges in this category will be developing programs to encourage the success 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.

Chihade echoed the sentiments around collaboration that drove the recent round of HHMI grant support. “Providing opportunities for different students to make connections in different ways is crucial for supporting the persistence of all students in the sciences and math and for increasing the diversity of students who study science,” he said. “We’re very excited at the prospect of working with other institutions to exchange ideas and arrive at best practices.”

Other Minnesota colleges receiving grants include St. Olaf College, Macalester College, and University of Minnesota-Morris. Grinnell College of Iowa is also a grant recipient.

Since 1988, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded more than $870 million to 274 colleges and universities to support science education.

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