UW News

June 1, 2006

Biology gets $1.6 million Howard Hughes grant

The UW Biology Department has been chosen to receive a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the nation’s largest private supporter of science education.

The grant, announced today, will support a variety of efforts that collectively are known as the UW-HHMI Science Education Programs, said program director Barbara Wakimoto, the biology professor who wrote the grant proposal.

“Simply put, the new funding allows us to offer students and faculty opportunities that we could not afford to provide otherwise,” Wakimoto said. “As a plus, HHMI fosters interaction among its supported institutions, so we benefit from sharing ideas and innovations with other institutions who are also working to improve science education. This broadens the impact of all of our awards.”

The award makes possible a new collaboration with Montana State University and Oregon State University called the Northwest HHMI Network, in which UW faculty will meet regularly with MSU and OSU faculty to discuss education and outreach programs. Students can use research facilities at each institution and can participate in summer research internships and meetings at the other institutions.

Wakimoto said most of the grant will support two undergraduate development and research programs at the core of the UW-HHMI effort. One is the Biology Fellows Program, which provides 40 freshmen a year with a supportive academic and social environment to help them succeed with a demanding science curriculum. The other is the Integrative Research Internship Program, which funds sophomores, juniors and seniors so they can participate in faculty-mentored research and learn about cutting-edge research findings and approaches. The interns work in faculty laboratories all across campus or at affiliated institutions, or they work with a team in the undergraduate research apprenticeship program at Friday Harbor Laboratories.

There also are programs to assist in career development for faculty and postdoctoral researchers, as well as outreach programs for the K-12 education system. A new program called “Visit Biology” will benefit the nearly 3,000 pre-college students who visit the UW Botany Greenhouse and Medicinal Herb Garden each year. The HHMI grant will support development of materials that can be shared with the K-12 teachers involved with those students, to improve the learning experience when they return to the classroom.

The grant also will support long-standing teacher training programs with a special focus on middle-school teachers, including summer workshops and courses to train them in content- and inquiry-based methods for teaching science.

The UW shares in awards totaling $86.4 million, ranging from $1.5 million to $2.2 million, made to 50 universities in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, founded by the late industrialist Howard Hughes in 1953, is based in Chevy Chase, Md.