UNT plans to expand research opportunities to more undergraduates and help ensure a successful transition for transfer students with support from a new $1.3 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
UNT was among 50 universities nationwide awarded $70 million from the HHMI in an effort to strengthen science education. The schools will use the grants — which range from $800,000 to $2 million — to develop creative, research-based courses and curriculum, to give students experience working in science laboratories and to improve science education from elementary school through college.
HHMI invited nearly 200 research-focused universities to submit proposals dealing with how to improve science education. A panel of distinguished scientists and educators reviewed the proposals and selected the top 50. This is UNT's first time to receive the HHMI Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program grant.
UNT will use its money to:
- Bring first-year community college students to campus each summer for a five-week program teaching academic success skills and introducing research methods. Second-year community college students will work with UNT faculty on research projects in the summer.
- Create the Classroom Research Laboratory, which is modeled after HHMI's National Genomics Research Initiative. In this course, UNT students collect soil samples, isolate bacterial viruses called phage and analyze the DNA sequence of the phage's genome. With this new space, 48 students per semester will conduct research as part of their undergraduate biology courses, which includes identifying the function of genes involved in bacterial stress responses, understanding how oxygen levels affect growth and development or identifying novel plant lipids.
"It's real research; we don't know what the answers will be," says Lee E. Hughes, assistant professor of biology and UNT's HHMI program director. "Providing this class means we can get students excited, and maybe they'll go on to do more research."
- Provide financial support for UNT juniors and seniors for one year in a biology or biochemistry lab. Undergraduates will work side by side with faculty and graduate students on issues ranging from sub-Antarctic biodiversity and plant nitrogen fixation symbiosis to developmental genetics.
UNT has the largest number of transfer students in the state and ranks fourth nationally among public universities. In addition, half of all students qualify for financial aid. Hughes says it makes sense to target these groups with the grant money.
"Exposure to research is invaluable," Hughes says. "Students can take those experiences to jump-start their future graduate careers or whatever paths they take in biology."
This is UNT's second grant from HHMI. In 2009, the university received support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science Education Alliance, a program to bring laboratory research to beginning biology courses.
HHMI, a nonprofit medical research organization that ranks as one of the nation's largest philanthropies, plays a powerful role in advancing biomedical research and science education in the United States. The institute spent $730 million for research and distributed $101 million in grant support for science education in fiscal year 2009.
Sarah Bahari with UNT News Service can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.