Randy Duran and Students

(Above)
Randy Duran and students.

Cultivating the Seeds of Science

Article Originally published in the June 2006 issue of CLASnotes.

UF students and faculty will soon have access to a new interdisciplinary science laboratory in the university’s Health Science Center complex, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The grant in support of undergraduate science education will leverage investments from UF and partners to total more than $3.8 million.

“This award will bring together early undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members campus wide to teach and learn from each other in a way no other facility in the state does now,” says Randy Duran, the grant’s lead researcher and an associate professor of chemistry. “UF has a very talented freshman class, and we want to make stimulating opportunities available to these students.”

UF will use the grant money to create the HHMI Undergraduate Core Laboratory at UF’s Health Science Center. The facility will be devoted to cross-disciplinary teaching and laboratory work. “We hope to fund 70 to 100 HHMI freshman research awards annually in a program called Science for Life,” says Ben Dunn, distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and co-director of the student research part of the program.

Working with UF’s College of Education and colleagues in engineering, medicine and agriculture, the program also will establish a new science education minor, allowing hundreds of UF students to pursue high school science teaching. An extramural research program will send more experienced undergraduates to Scripps Florida and to some of the most outstanding life science research laboratories in Europe.
Thanks to more than 150 faculty from 49 academic departments, including 40 clinical faculty from the UF Health Science Center, freshmen will learn interdisciplinary research early in the core lab and quickly move on to conduct independent research projects mentored by graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members.

The grant also has enabled UF to partner with Morehouse College in Atlanta on two major programs. The first will enable postdoctoral fellows to teach in the HHMI Core Lab and work on collaborative research projects, spending a year teaching and researching at each institution. They will receive additional mentoring from Catherine Emihovich, dean of UF’s College of Education. Typically, postdoctoral fellows conduct research at one institution and rarely receive training in teaching or mentoring. When the fellows sign on as new faculty members at any college or university, UF will pay each an additional $20,000 to help get them started.

In addition, UF and Morehouse will jointly award HHMI Term Professorships to at least 27 faculty members who demonstrate excellent undergraduate mentoring skills. The awards, $10,000 over a two-year period, can be spent at the faculty member’s discretion.

“This particular award is especially meaningful as it addresses two important issues,” says UF Provost Janie Fouke. “First, the most interesting problems are at the interstices between disciplines, and these faculty members recognize that. They are committed to reinforcing cross-disciplinary inquiry from the very earliest days of a student’s career. Second, people cannot address many of the pressing societal issues without a sound background in science and math. Put simply, we need educated voters and this program will strengthen the science and math base for the next generation of folks who will be determining federal, state and local policies. Not only does UF win because we have received this award, so does the rest of the nation.”

HHMI—the nation’s largest private supporter of science education—awarded a total of $86.4 million in grants to 50 universities in 28 states and the District of Columbia. This year, out of 160 applications, UF is one of 6 to receive the grant for the first time.

UF’s new grant comes on the heels of another HHMI award. In April, Lou Guillette, a UF distinguished professor of zoology, was selected as one of 20 HHMI professors and received $1 million to support undergraduate science research efforts at UF. Guillette is an active participant with the new award as well.

HHMI has supported undergraduate science education at the nation’s colleges and universities since 1988, providing 247 institutions of higher learning with nearly $700 million in grants.

Credits

Writer

Allyson Beutke

Photos

Courtesy Randy Duran

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