Montana State University

MSU awarded $1.2 million to strengthen undergraduate and precollege science education

May 20, 2010 -- Melynda Harrison, MSU News Service


Anna Gerasimova, a 2009 participant in the Hughes Undergraduate Biology Program's summer undergraduate research program, works on a project related to development of the embryonic nervous system, in Dr. Christa Merzdorf's lab. (MSU photo)    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Undergraduate and precollege education at Montana State University will be strengthened thanks to a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant announced May 20.

MSU will use the $1.2 million, four-year award to better integrate biomedical curriculum, fund summer and academic-year undergraduate research experiences for MSU students and continue the Montana Apprenticeship Program (MAP), which brings Native American high school students to MSU to help prepare them for college. The funding will also be used to support Science Saturdays and Expanding Your Horizons--MSU programs that reach out to Native communities.

"HHMI is committed to funding education programs that excite students' interest in science," said HHMI President Robert Tjian in a press release announcing the awards. "We hope that these programs will shape the way students look at the world--whether those students ultimately choose to pursue a career in science or not."

It is the third time MSU has received the Hughes grant for research universities. This year MSU is one of 50 universities nationwide to be awarded the highly competitive grant.

In 2002 and 2006 the awards were used to develop a summer research program for undergraduates, dedicate two laboratories to undergraduate research, overhaul and increase the rigor of courses in cell biology in neuroscience, revise the introductory biology sequence of classes, hire four professors and help fund the Montana Apprenticeship Program (MAP), which strives to increase the number of Native American and other underrepresented high schools students who want to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math career fields.

"We've seen enrollment almost triple in some of those biology classes since we revamped them," said Gwen Jacobs, principal investigator and director of the Hughes Undergraduate Biology (HUB) Program and professor of neuroscience at MSU. "The goal was to improve how students learn about biological systems and HHMI was very impressed with what we did."

One goal of the new grant is to continue funding the MAP program facilitated by American Indian Research Opportunities (AIRO). Since 1980, AIRO has brought nearly 500 Native American students and teachers to MSU for six weeks during the summer. Students work hands-on in an MSU lab with a research mentor.

"The Hughes grant allows us to continue providing a comprehensive college experience for Native American high school students," said Marjorie Old Horn, director of the AIRO program. "We help prepare them for college by increasing their knowledge in math, science and engineering and cultural enrichment activities."

HUB will also work to instill an interest in science in pre-high school students by partially funding MSU's Science Saturdays and Expanding Your Horizons programs for elementary and middle school students in Native communities.

With past Hughes awards, MSU developed a successful summer research program for students from around the country. This year, 400 students applied for 15 positions. During this grant cycle, the program will involve almost entirely MSU students and will include both a summer research program and an academic year program for Hughes Scholars.

"We want to recognize the real excellence of MSU undergraduates," said Jacobs. "We'll get students in the lab earlier and they'll have a chance to publish papers, attend national meetings and develop a set of skills that compliments their academic experience and better prepares them for graduate school, medical school or professional school."

"MSU's undergraduates are already very high quality and this will give them even more of a competitive advantage."

Interim Provost Joe Fedock said the Hughes grant means MSU can improve the overall educational experience for students by creating the Hughes Biomedical Science Faculty group that will oversee biomedical education across departments.

"This award will significantly advance our curricular development efforts in biomedical education at the undergraduate level, to the great benefit of all our students, and will be a wonderful complement to our renovation of Cooley Lab for biomedical research," Fedock said.

Based in Maryland, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute employs biomedical researchers at medical centers and universities nationwide. A complimentary grants program supports science education in the U.S. and a select group of biomedical scientists abroad.

Gwen Jacobs at 406-994-7334 or gwen@cns.montana.edu