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Stanford receives $1.8 million Hughes grant to attract undergrads to science

STANFORD -- Stanford University has been granted $1.8 million by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to enhance the quality of science education for undergraduates and promising high school students. The four-year grant is a renewal of a five- year, million-dollar program sponsored by the Hughes Institute to help create a culture of science for undergraduates at Stanford, according to Craig Heller, professor of biological sciences and associate dean of research.

The grant is part of $86 million in four-year grants being awarded to 62 universities as part of HHMI's six-year-old, $290 million Undergraduate Biological Science Education Program. According to HHMI, the $86 million is the largest series of grants by a private organization in U.S. history.

The funds for Stanford's Hughes Undergraduate Research Program include $560,000 over four years to support undergraduate summer fellowships in laboratory research supervised by faculty members and research scientists. There will be incentives for minority and women students, including work-study funds to help students find opportunities to work in laboratories.

The grant also will add laboratory space and state-of-the-art equipment for undergraduate laboratory courses in biology, human biology and chemistry. It will provide symposia, seminars and a summer honors college to help students learn to plan, complete and present original research. It will sponsor seminars in research opportunities and scientific ethics, and special seminars for minorities and women attracted to research. A new course in molecular biology has begun this fall with advanced-placement high school students from Gunn and Palo Alto high schools. Other expanded summer programs will be aimed to attract minority high-schoolers to medicine and to science.

“Stanford is a research university,” says Heller. “It is remarkable that we and other major universities send relatively few of our students into research careers. Now, because of this and other programs for undergraduates on campus, more and more of our students are participating in research. They're taking advantage of the physical and intellectual resources of the university and getting excited about research careers.”

Heller co-directs the program with David Siegmund, senior associate dean of humanities and sciences. Ellen MacDonald acts as undergraduate research coordinator.

The purpose of the program is to encourage undergraduates to experience the excitement of doing science. An example is a three-step model established under the previous Hughes grant. Students begin with a lecture/discussion course that introduces them to the research problems and literature in a scientific field, such as regulatory and cellular neurophysiology, or biophysical chemistry. A second laboratory- based course introduces them to current experimental methods and research - for example, in advanced neurophysiological methods.

The third step is for students to design their own research plans, and to write competitive proposals for Hughes funds that enable them to carry out the ideas they have proposed.

Most students who win Hughes Undergraduate Research grants conduct their research during the summer after their junior year, then complete their thesis in their senior year and graduate with honors. Presented at Stanford's annual honors symposium, the undergraduates' projects frequently are presented at research meetings as well and published in major scientific journals.

In its first five years, the Hughes program, combined with other university efforts, spurred two- thirds of undergraduate biology majors - more than 200 students a year - to try their hands at laboratory research. The number of seniors who wrote an honors thesis averaged 39 percent. And while the majority of senior biology majors continue to plan careers in medicine, the number who say they'll pursue research as part of their career plans has risen from 27 percent to more than 40 percent.

With the addition of chemistry laboratory courses, the renewed Hughes program will be open to students majoring in biology, human biology and chemistry - a large proportion of all Stanford undergrads, Heller said.



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