Million-Dollar Plums for Teaching

19 September 2002 (All day)

Research grants have always been the main source of prestige and money for academic scientists. Now one of the biggest funding sources for biologists, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is hoping to add luster to researchers who teach. Yesterday the philanthropic giant announced fellowships that will give each of 20 top biologists $1 million over 4 years to enhance undergraduate education.

Undergraduate science curricula at major research universities are often outdated, boring, and impersonal, says Peter Bruns, HHMI's vice president for grants and special programs, because the academic reward system is skewed toward research. To rev up interest in the classroom, HHMI asked 84 research universities to nominate faculty members who are committed to working with students.

Many of the 20 winners (see complete list below) will use the money to give more undergraduates research experiences. For neurobiologist Ronald Hoy of Cornell University, part of the money will pay for high-speed video cameras to enable undergrads to study behavior in mutant flies. Along with other winners, Hoy will also hire postdocs and students to help develop and teach new courses. The award, Hoy says, "lets you make a very ambitious plan from the get-go."

Others, such as chemist Isiah Warner of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, will create programs to mentor prospective scientists. Warner hopes to recruit and retain more minorities, starting in high school. High-tech approaches are also popular. Geneticist Elizabeth Jones of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has enlisted seven colleagues to program an interactive tutor that will teach genetics. "I'm thrilled to be able to do this," she says.

The sterling research reputations of the new fellows should help leverage the program, Bruns says. "We wanted to pick people who could influence their colleagues" and promote more interest in improving education, he says. Jones, for example, plans to reserve advertising space in Genetics, the journal she edits, to plug her tutoring software. "I wouldn't have that bully pulpit if I had just taught," she says.

Related sites
HHMI grant announcement, with links to profiles of recipients
ScienceNOW article on a recent report on undergraduate biology education
Ronald Hoy's site
Elizabeth Jones's site
Isiah Warner's site

List of new HHMI grant recipients
• MANUEL ARES JR., University of California, Santa Cruz
• UTPAL BANERJEE, University of California, Los Angeles
• SARAH C. R. ELGIN, Washington University (St. Louis)
• ELLEN FANNING, Vanderbilt University
• HILARY GODWIN, Northwestern University
• BOB GOLDBERG, University of California, Los Angeles
• JO HANDELSMAN, University of Wisconsin, Madison
• GRAHAM HATFULL, University of Pittsburgh
• RONALD HOY, Cornell University
• ELIZABETH JONES, Carnegie Mellon University
• DARCY KELLEY, Columbia University
• MARY LIDSTROM, University of Washington, Seattle
• RICHARD LOSICK, Harvard University
• YI LU, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
• DAVID LYNN, Emory University
• REBECCA RICHARDS-KORTUM, University of Texas, Austin
• ALANNA SCHEPARTZ, Yale University
• TIM STEARNS, Stanford University
• GRAHAM WALKER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
• ISIAH WARNER, Louisiana State University

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