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UF Receives $1.5 Million from Howard Hughes Medical Institute to Enhance Undergraduate Science Education

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June 1, 2006

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- University of Florida students and faculty soon will have access to a new interdisciplinary science laboratory in UF’s Health Science Center complex, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The grant in support of undergraduate science education will leverage investments from UF and partners to total more than $3.8 million.

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

With the help of Doug Barrett, UF senior vice president for health affairs, the university 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,” said 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 jobs. 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 is to establish a teaching postdoctoral fellow program. Postdoctoral fellows will teach in the HHMI Core Lab and work on collaborative research projects, spending a year teaching and doing research 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 of $10,000 over a two-year period can be spent at the faculty member's discretion.

“We are delighted that an institution with the powerful impact of the HHMI has recognized the excellence and the vision that is here at UF and decided to acknowledge and reward it,” said UF Provost Janie Fouke. “This particular award is especially meaningful as it addresses two important issues.  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 grants to 50 universities in 28 states and the District of Columbia totaling $86.4 million. UF is one of six universities to receive the grant for the first time out of 160 applications.

UF’s new grant comes on the heels of another HHMI award. In April, Louis Guillette, a UF distinguished professor of zoology, was selected as one of 20 HHMI professors who 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.

Visit http://www.hhmi.org/news/06012006.html to read the HHMI release, and visit http://www.hhmi.org/news/06012006c.html to read an article the HHMI also released specifically about UF's award and how it will be used.

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Credits

Writer

Allyson Beutke, (352) 846-2032, abeutke@clas.ufl.edu

Sources

Randy Duran, (352) 870-4986, rduran@chem.ufl.edu
Louis J. Guillette, (352) 392-0783, ljg@zoo.ufl.edu
Sobha Jaishankar, (352) 392-8247, sjaishan@rgp.ufl.edu
Cindy Fox Aisen, (317) 843-2276, aisenc@hhmi.org

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