This is an archived article.

September 16, 1998

UW gets $1.2 million Hughes grant for biological science education

News and Information

The University of Washington today was awarded a four-year, $1.2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to support undergraduate education in the biological sciences.

The grant is one of 58 that the Chevy Chase, Md., philanthropic organization presented to universities nationwide. The grants total $91.1 million and range from $1.2 million to $2.2 million. They are part of the institute’s mission of conducting biomedical research and strengthening education in biological sciences.

“This program is actually a small part of what the Hughes institute does, but it is a very important part because it funds things that we could not get the money for anywhere else,” said Robin Wright, a UW associate zoology professor who is director for the grant program at the university. “The state does not provide money to the university to train elementary and secondary school teachers how to teach science.”

About half the grant will be used to support undergraduate participation in original research, with an emphasis on medical-related science. Most of that money will go to stipends for students doing research at the university or at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and other related institutions.

The other half of the grant will support several outreach efforts aimed at improving K-12 science teaching, building closer ties between the university and community colleges, and attracting students to university-level biology programs.

Wright noted that even in the Seattle School District, only about 10 percent of elementary school teachers include any science in their course work, a figure she believes is gradually increasing because of the Elementary Teachers Summer Institute. That institute was begun with a previous Hughes grant and will continue under the new grant.

Teachers attending the summer institute develop science curriculum units. For instance, they might work on experiments to test how antibacterial hand soaps work and then make comparisons between different brands of soap for effectiveness. Or they might develop methods for students to learn what organisms typically live in tidal pools. The idea is to give teachers the tools to teach science, not just a particular kind of science, Wright said. About 270 teachers have taken part in the institute since 1987. Three have been named state science teacher of the year.

“These teachers come in scared of science,” she said. “They come in not knowing anything about science, and they learn that science is about asking questions, that it’s fun. They learn how to convey that excitement to their classes.”

The Kelly Scholars Center in Seattle’s Central Area is another Hughes-financed outreach program in which high school students from throughout the region are tutored in math and science, even English. The hope is that they will become interested in going to college and the program will help prepare them for college entrance examinations.

In the Science for Success outreach effort, two groups of 20 high school students are brought to the UW campus for a two-week program that introduces them to a variety of facilities, particularly research areas such as the hematology laboratory at the UW Medical Center.

The Hughes grant also will support the new Community College-University Partnership, an outreach program designed to build collaboration between the UW and the state’s community colleges, which supply about half the university’s biology majors.

This is the third time the UW has won a Hughes grant for biological sciences. The previous two grants covered programs for the last nine years.

In addition to the grant program, Hughes employs 330 investigators who conduct medical research in institute-sponsored laboratories at 72 academic medical centers and universities across the country. Additional information about the grant program is available at the Hughes web site,


For more information, contact Wright at (206) 685-3659 or (206) 685-3651, or by e-mail at