Penn State awarded $1 million science education grant by HHMI

University Park, Pa — The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) on May 20 announced that Penn State is among 50 research-focused universities selected to receive new grants totaling $70 million intended to help strengthen undergraduate and precollege science education nationwide. The resources will let faculty at research universities pursue some of their most creative ideas by developing new ways to teach and inspire students about science and research.

"Penn State has received a $1 million grant, which we will use to develop a new program called 'Go Teach: Penn State,' in which students can earn a dual bachelor of science degree in biology, a masters of education degree in curriculum and instruction, and credentials to teach science at the high-school level in Pennsylvania after completing an intensive five-year curriculum," said Richard Cyr, professor of biology and the assistant head for undergraduate affairs in the Department of Biology.

"Students who might not otherwise consider a career path in secondary science education could, as a result of this deliberate 'Go Teach: Penn State' effort, come to view science teaching in grades K to 12 as an engaging and rewarding career," Cyr said.

Faculty in the Eberly College of Science and the College of Education, who will work together to further design the new program, have coordinated course schedules so that students can earn both degrees one year faster than previously was possible.

"By selecting these 50 grantees, we highlight areas and approaches that we think are particularly powerful," said David Asai, director of HHMI's precollege and undergraduate programs. "We hope that universities across the country -- even those that are not HHMI grantees -- will turn to these programs when they think about improving science education."

The new "Go Teach: Penn State" dual-degree program contains activities strategically designed to reinforce one another to increase the quality and quantity of tomorrow's science teachers. At the same time, the activities are designed to enrich the biology lab experience for all freshman and sophomore students.

"The basic elements are scalable and expandable -- it is our intent to use the support from the HHMI as a springboard for broadening these activities to include other scientific disciplines in addition to biology in future years," Cyr said.

Some of the program-development team's plans include the development of new courses, including a freshman-year seminar to be taught by science and education faculty, titled "Careers in Science Education." Additional new courses to be developed include "Peer Learning in the Sciences," "Peer Leadership in the Sciences," and "Teaching in the Sciences." Other plans include the integration of cutting-edge pedagogical methods into the training of future and current teaching assistants, development of new inquiry-based labs and materials for training teaching assistants in how to guide students as they work through these new investigatory labs.

"Our plans include mechanisms for identifying and recruiting the best, most capable, and most motivated biology students into the Go Teach: Penn State program very early in their studies at Penn State, and also students who discover later during their time here that they have a desire to pursue science-education careers," Cyr said. Plans also include the development of procedures for assessing the effectiveness of the various components of the program, with the overall goal of determining how they affect students' initial career choices and the stability of these choices in the years after graduation.

"HHMI is committed to funding education programs that excite students' interest in science," says HHMI president Robert Tjian. "We hope that these programs will shape the way students look at the world -- whether those students ultimately choose to pursue a career in science or not."

For more information, contact Cyr at 814-865-6416 or rjc8@psu.edu, or Barbara Kennedy at 814-863-4682 or science@psu.edu.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. HHMI, the nation's largest private funder of science education, has spent $1.6 billion since 1985 to reform life sciences education from elementary through graduate school. The grants allow large research universities to tackle projects that affect hundreds or even thousands of students, both inside the university and at local K-12 schools, explains Peter J. Bruns, HHMI's vice president for grants and special programs. For more information, visit http://www.hhmi.org/ online.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010