Hughes Institute Awards $1.5 Million to UB to Improve Biological Sciences Teaching, Retain Students Grant Targets Undergraduates, Minorities And WNY High-School Students

Release Date: October 4, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has received a $1.5 million grant from the nation's largest private philanthropy to improve undergraduate biological-sciences education at the university, as well as science instruction in high schools in Western New York.

The UB grant is the second largest awarded to a public or private university in New York State by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as part of the largest series of grants ever given by a private organization in U.S. history to enhance the quality of the nation's science education.

It will fund several initiatives, including programs to improve the retention rates of students majoring in life sciences, a scholars program for biological sciences students, long-overdue biology laboratory upgrades, a new upper-level course in advanced human molecular genetics for nonscience majors and summer training for high-school teachers.

The grant will be administered by the UB Department of Biological Sciences.

"This grant will help catalyze many important developments in science education at UB," said Joseph Tufariello, Ph.D., dean of the UB Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

"It is designed to enhance our undergraduate instructional programs in the biological sciences, broaden the accessibility of science education and encourage us to work closely with area high schools in developing curricula enriched in biological content."

UB President William R. Greiner noted that "the Hughes Institute grant, building on UB's existing partnerships with our area public schools, will help us encourage high-school students to take an interest in the life sciences."

Greiner added, "It also will enhance the university's existing strengths in biology and biomedical sciences, and make those science programs more accessible for undergraduates who might not otherwise pursue careers in these disciplines."

• A program to attract and retain students in the sciences, including those from underrepresented minority groups, through faculty mentoring, laboratory experiences, research colloquia and other activities.

• Upgraded teaching laboratories in biochemistry, genetics, organic chemistry and molecular genetics for nonscience majors emphasizing interdisciplinary instruction and scientific exploration.

• Summer research training for teachers in high schools in Buffalo and Western New York, including provisions of kits of experiments, supplies and equipment for the schools to enhance classroom science teaching. A total of 55 teachers are expected to participate through the four years of the grant.

• Strengthened interactions between the UB departments of biological sciences and chemistry, which Tufariello said will be important as they develop courses "to meet the evolving needs of undergraduates preparing for careers in biomedical fields."

Edward Brody, Ph.D., professor and chair of biological sciences at UB and principal investigator on the grant, said some of UB's existing biological sciences equipment dates from the late 1960s. He added that besides being obsolete, some of it doesn't work, which frustrates and dampens the enthusiasm of students working and studying in laboratories.

"If we were depending solely on state funds, it would be very difficult to make these improvements," Brody noted.

A major thrust of the grant is to attract more undergraduate students to the life sciences and, once they begin their science studies, to retain a higher percentage of them.

Gerald B. Koudelka, Ph.D., UB associate professor of biological sciences and a member of the Hughes project committee, said that like other universities, UB has had difficulty retaining students majoring in biology.

"This grant gives us the resources that will allow us to support and retain good students," Koudelka noted.

"We want to make students understand at a very early age what a career in biology is all about and what science is all about," said Brody.

"Our hope is that if kids are actually doing science, not just reading about it, they'll be as excited about it as we are and they'll want to do more."

Undergraduates recruited into the new Hughes scholarship program will be exposed to the research process in numerous ways. They will be assigned faculty mentors and, to help them understand the importance of an open exchange of scientific ideas, they will participate in small colloquia with faculty and other university researchers.

These undergraduate scholars will conduct independent research projects beginning in the junior year and continuing through the summer into their senior year. They will be paid for their summer work and get course credit during the academic year.

Enhancing science education for nonmajors through the development of an upper-level course for nonmajors in advanced human molecular genetics also is an objective of the grant. The course will include lectures on the ethical and political implications of genetic engineering, as well as labs that emphasize first-hand experience of advanced techniques, such as DNA technology.

"A lot of people who are not scientists, but who go into fields such as business or law, are going to find themselves having to interact with doctors and scientists and make decisions about scientific issues," said Brody.

"With this new course, UB will be giving students not majoring in science a hands-on opportunity to use real laboratory techniques and to put their experience into their own context."

According to Brody, what sets UB apart from other institutions receiving Hughes grants are the many strong connections the university already has with the community.

Existing programs that will be instrumental in helping achieve the goals of the grant include the 24-year-old Western New York Science Teachers Forum, which brings together leading scientists and local science teachers, as well as efforts targeted at underrepresented students by the UB Office of Public Service and Urban Affairs, such as the Science and Technology Enrichment Program, and a National Science Foundation-funded science summer camp.

The UB grant was one of 62 totaling $86 million that was awarded to research and doctorate-granting universities through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program.

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