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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute today announced that it will award $60 million in grants to 48 of the nation’s best undergraduate institutions to help them usher in a new era of science education. Colby College will receive $1 million to improve undergraduate science education by bolstering support to students and reaching out to local schools.

“The undergraduate years are vital to attracting and retaining students who will be the future of science,” said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. “We want students to experience science as the creative, challenging, and rewarding endeavor that it is.”

Colby has always had a close relationship with local public schools. The HHMI grant will make that relationship even closer, supporting more scientists-in-the-classroom units, loaning more lab equipment, giving more small grants directly to science teachers, and hiring more high school students as summer research assistants.

A special outreach target for Colby science students will be the fourth and fifth graders at Waterville’s Hall School. Research by Colby faculty in the education program has identified this age group as the time boys lose interest in school and girls lose interest in science.

For many college freshmen, the “gateway” courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics are killers—killers of interest and of potential careers in science. The gateway shock phenomenon is a particular problem for first-generation college students and those from minority groups who are already underrepresented in science. Getting them through the fundamentals and giving them a taste of doing their own research is one of the prime goals of Colby’s new program.

The project, which aims to get and keep science majors from traditionally underrepresented groups, will begin with a six-week, summer program for students between high school and college, mixing an intense research experience, close faculty mentorship, and a review of basic math and chemistry skills. The students will continue to be mentored and serve as members of research labs through the regular school year, while their connection to others in the group will be strengthened during special workshops and social gatherings.

The HHMI grant will speed faculty retraining and a curriculum overhaul that will bring statistical concepts into virtually every biology class, from neuroscience to genetics. Computer science majors will find themselves wrestling with problems drawn from molecular biology and genomics. In addition Colby will broaden its faculty expertise by hiring two postdoctoral fellows. Other HHMI-funded programs will hone the leadership skills of women science faculty and underwrite the mentoring of future science department chairs at Colby.

HHMI is the nation’s largest private supporter of science education. It has invested more than $1.2 billion in grants to reinvigorate life science education at both research universities and liberal arts colleges and to engage the nation’s leading scientists in teaching.

One of the world’s largest philanthropies, HHMI is a nonprofit medical research organization that employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefront of their fields. HHMI has an endowment of approximately $18.7 billion. Its headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.