Montana State University

MSU receives $1.6 million for biology education

June 2, 2006 -- by Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Cinnamon Spear started her research as a freshman in an HHMI-supported program at MSU. (MSU photo by Erin Raley)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Montana State University has received a second four-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to improve undergraduate education in biology. HHMI is the nation's largest private supporter of science education.

"We were delighted to receive the renewal of our grant. This award will allow us to continue the development and expansion of our program over the next four years," program director Gwen Jacobs said of the $1.6 million grant that followed a $1.9 million grant awarded MSU in 2002.

The new grant will allow MSU to build on progress it made with the first grant, Jacobs said. Working toward a more rigorous and extensive biology curriculum, MSU will expand on the work it started with freshmen and senior-level courses and extend these goals throughout the curriculum. MSU will continue to develop inquiry and discovery-based biology labs.

MSU will also hire one new faculty member and enhance faculty development activities, Jacobs said. A new feature of the program will be a three-way collaboration with the University of Washington and Oregon State University, two other universities that received HHMI grants. Called the Northwest HHMI Network, the consortium will provide additional research experiences for MSU students and foster interaction between faculty at each site in curriculum design and outreach.

In its latest round of grants, HMMI gave a total of $86.4 million to 50 universities in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Individual awards ranged from $1.5 million to $2.2 million. The University of Montana, Oregon State University, Harvard University and Stanford University were among those receiving $1.5 million. The University of Washington received $1.6 million. Princeton University and Yale University were among those receiving $2.2 million.

"We believe it is vital to bring fresh perspectives to the teaching of established scientific disciplines and to develop novel courses in emerging areas, such as computational biology, genomics, and bio-imaging," HHMI President Thomas R. Cech said in a press release from the institute.

"Our grantee universities are providing hands-on research experiences to help prepare undergraduates, including women and minorities underrepresented in the sciences, for graduate studies, and for careers in biomedical research, medicine, and science education," Cech continued. "We also hope these grants will help the universities increase the science literacy of their students, including non-science majors."

Jacobs said MSU's new funds will also support ongoing successful efforts to attract and retain young students in the sciences, including Native Americans. At the center of those activities is the Montana Apprenticeship Program, or MAP, which allows women and Native American students to live on the MSU campus for six weeks in the summer while taking science classes and participating in a research project with faculty mentors. The program began in 1980 with three students. It had 21 in 2005.

Cinnamon Spear, one of those students and a Northern Cheyenne Indian, is now in her fourth summer of doing research at MSU, according to an HHMI press release. Just finished with her freshman year at Dartmouth College, Spear was the first high school freshman accepted into MAP in the history of the program. She spent her first summer in an MSU chemistry lab learning how to purify proteins. In her second summer, she helped develop a novel method for analyzing the microbial diversity in environmental samples. Her research resulted in an April 2006 paper in Microbial Ecology. She returned to MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering last summer after graduating from high school and is back again this summer.

"She learned more quickly than some undergraduates or graduate students. I wouldn't hesitate to mentor another high school student like Cinnamon," said Mark Burr, a research scientist who mentored Spear at the Center for Biofilm Engineering.

Jacobs said the new grant validates the work MSU did under the original HHMI grant, through national recognition of the program.

Contact: Gwen Jacobs, (406) 994-5120, 994-3701, 994-7334 or