June 02, 2006

$1.5 million HHMI grant to Case's biology department

To focus on active learning and mentoring by undergrads, grad and postdocs

Case Western Reserve University's biology department will create a cascade of active science learning and mentoring that impacts the educational ranks all the way from the university to Cleveland's inner city high school and middle school students and teachers.

This novel approach to getting students of all ages excited about science received the major support of a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes (HHMI). This is the fifth time since 1988 that Case has advanced and enhanced its biology program through the generous HHMI support.

According to Joseph Koonce, chair of the biology department and also the HHMI program director for the new grant, "these grants have had a major impact on science education at Case."

The university is among 50 research institutions to share $86.4 million from the HHMI program to boost undergraduate science education in the United States.

Along with the action learning and mentoring focuses, the biology department plans to launch its new Bachelor's of Science degree in systems biology. This area of the biological sciences interfaces with mathematics and engineering to unravel the pathways of diseases through understanding metabolic networks. The impact of research from this field has the potential to lead to new treatments and cures for heart disease, diabetes and other life-threatening disease.

Since the inception of the HHMI program, Case has built a strong biology department that offers its undergraduates and graduate students research and learning opportunities in biological sciences that span biorobotics to molecular science.

With the new grant, Koonce said he wants to see Case students putting more of their knowledge into practice.

He will be assisted in the HHMI efforts by Charles Rozak, dean of Graduate Studies and the co-director on the grant, who will focus primarily on the Summer Program in Undergraduate Research (SPUR).

"We plan to transform the entire biology curriculum into an active-learning format," he said.

The grant will allow the department to send faculty to special learning workshops to design new classroom modules that use action learning.

Koonce explained that many students perceive their education as something done for them, and "not something for which they have to take responsibility."

Students will be encouraged to use more of their knowledge in ways to find new discoveries in the research lab and share that information with others, Koonce said.

Changes will take place through a new mentoring program that passes knowledge from faculty, postdoctoral fellows and undergraduate students to public school students and teachers with everyone sharing what they know but also learning from the mentors above them in this educational rank.

Also benefiting from the new grant will be students at Fisk University and Cuyahoga Community College who participate in SPUR as well as Cleveland Municipal School teachers and students who will have summer education opportunities through Case's Center for Science and Mathematics Education programs. Case faculty will build on established programs to strengthen these areas to foster the sciences and increase a diverse pool of future scientists through these collaborations.

Many components of the new grant dovetail with the larger education focus of Case—especially the four-year undergraduate program centered around SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship).

Components of the new grant will create:

  • Active learning units in all biology courses
  • Capstone research experience in the undergraduate's senior year which integrates the SAGES (Seminar Approach to Undergraduate Education and Scholarship) model into biology education
  • Mentoring workshops for all biology postdoctoral fellows and graduate students
  • Enhanced learning through tutoring
  • Increased outreach to local schools through undergraduate mentoring through

BioCorps, which will work with minority high school and middle school teachers and students

  • Public lectures
  • Introduction to science as a career to students in grades 5-9 through critical science and math concepts and encouragement of their pursuit of science in undergraduate programs
  • Joint research by Case faculty and high school teachers to focus on active learning and mentoring

"This grant builds on the success of several elective courses (built through previous HHMI funding) that allows students to engage in meaningful projects in authentic problem areas such as modeling of biology systems or biorobotics," said Koonce.

He added that the HHMI funding will allow the biology department to transform its undergraduate experience.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is dedicated to discovering and disseminating new knowledge in the basic life sciences. HHMI grounds its research programs on the conviction that scientists of exceptional talent and imagination will make fundamental contributions of lasting scientific value and benefit to mankind when given the resources, time, and freedom to pursue challenging questions. The Institute prizes intellectual daring and seeks to preserve the autonomy of its scientists as they pursue their research.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, June 2, 2006 12:00 PM | News Topics: Grants, Science

Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.