Campus News

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Awards Bowdoin $1.1 Million Biosciences Grant

Story posted April 22, 2008

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded Bowdoin a $1.1 million grant in support of the biosciences. Faculty will use this award to enrich classroom, laboratory and co-curricular biosciences activities offered to Bowdoin students.

The grant will also help reinforce the College's continuing record of preparing future scientists for graduate and health sciences programs, and eventually, for careers in these fields. It also targets the preparation of non-science majors as citizens who understand important concepts and methods in the biosciences.

The $1.1 million HHMI grant will support:

  • Student-faculty research program, including a student research symposium
  • One-week science/laboratory immersion program in the summer for students under-represented in the sciences, e.g., students of color, women interested in the physical sciences and first generation students
  • Peer science mentoring program
  • Series of lectures for students by prominent scientists
  • Faculty workshops on integrating mathematics and biology
  • Three outreach programs to science high school teachers and their students; these will focus on Spectrophotometry, Neuroscience and Human Genetics
Patsy and student300.jpg
Braulio Peguero and Prof. Patsy Dicksinson

To address the problem of independent undergraduate research grinding to a halt when graduating seniors hand off their successful research projects to inexperienced peers just as those seniors could begin making important discoveries, Bowdoin will use part of the new HHMI grant to provide two to three seniors with the opportunity to spend three months to a year continuing their research at the College after they graduate.

The goal is to keep promising young researchers engaged, keep their projects moving forward, and hopefully produce work that merits publication in a peer-reviewed journal. These graduates will also mentor younger researchers to provide another level of leadership in the laboratory.

Professor and HHMI grant program director Patsy Dickinson

"Most Bowdoin science graduates don't go directly to medical school or graduate school upon graduation. They often work as research assistants for a year or two," says Patsy S. Dickinson, professor of natural sciences and program director for the $1.1 million HHMI grant.

"We wanted to give some students who have made significant progress on their undergraduate research the opportunity to work here at Bowdoin. In the process they will engage in a much higher level in their thinking and perhaps get a publication out of it."

The focus on creating these post-graduate research positions is part of a larger emphasis on student research.

"The single biggest thing we are doing with this grant is increasing the number of students who are doing research," Dickinson says.

Bowdoin has received three previous grants from HHMI, which have helped support a thriving community of students pursuing research in the biological sciences. This is especially evident during the summer months, when nearly 60 students are on campus working as "apprentices" to faculty investigators.

In addition to creating post-graduate research positions, Bowdoin will use its new HHMI grant to try to increase the number of people traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, including women and first-generation college students, who continue to study and go on to careers in the sciences.

As part of this effort, Bowdoin will invite these students to participate in a pre-first-year science immersion program and will open its research laboratories to 8-10 students from underrepresented groups as part of a work-study program

Colleges in 21 states and Puerto Rico will receive $700,000 to $1.6 million over the next four years to revitalize their life sciences undergraduate instruction. HHMI has challenged colleges to create more engaging science classes, bring real-world research experiences to students and increase the diversity of students who study science.

"The undergraduate years are vital to attracting and retaining students who will be the future of science," said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. "We want students to experience science as the creative, challenging and rewarding endeavor that it is."

HHMI invited 224 colleges with a track record of preparing undergraduate students for research careers to submit proposals. Bowdoin is one of only 48 colleges selected through a stringent review process by distinguished scientists and educators to receive an HHMI grant in 2008.

About Howard Hughes Medical Institute

HHMI is the nation's largest private supporter of science education. It has invested more than $1.2 billion in grants to reinvigorate life science education at both research universities and liberal arts colleges and to engage the nation's leading scientists in teaching. In 2007, it launched the Science Education Alliance, which will serve as a national resource for the development and distribution of innovative science education materials and methods.

One of the world's largest philanthropies, HHMI is a nonprofit medical research organization that employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefront of their fields. HHMI has an endowment of approximately $18.7 billion. Its headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

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