Wednesday, May 28, 2014

UNO Receives $1.5 Million Grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute

(from left) Jerry Howard, associate professor of biological sciences; Wendy Schluchter, professor and chair of biological sciences; and Tumulesh Solanky, professor and chair of mathematics, will lead UNO’s STEM efforts funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.(from left) Jerry Howard, associate professor of biological sciences; Wendy Schluchter, professor and chair of biological sciences; and Tumulesh Solanky, professor and chair of mathematics, will lead UNO’s STEM efforts funded by a grant from the
Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The University of New Orleans is the recipient of a 5-year $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The grant is aimed at helping research universities improve persistence of students studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and reinvigorating introductory science courses.

UNO is one of 37 institutions and the only one in Louisiana to receive a grant. Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) invited 203 research universities from across the country to apply for the grants.

"This grant will allow us to address some critical barriers to our students' success in STEM majors," said Wendy Schluchter, professor and chair of biological sciences, and the grant's principal investigator.

According to Schluchter, UNO will offer week-long boot camps in math and biology for up to 150 freshmen who want to major in science and engineering to refresh their math skills and explain professors' expectations. These students will be invited to participate in learning communities to help develop their critical thinking skills and encourage them to start identifying themselves as scientists. There will also be a shift in the math and science curricula to emphasize problem solving and active-learning approaches over lectures, Schluchter said.

"The award is a testament to our outstanding faculty," said Steve Johnson, dean of the College of Sciences. "Their innovative approaches to gateway courses in biology and mathematics, and the emphasis on summer advising camps and STEM learning communities will enhance retention of students and continue the long tradition of curriculum innovation in the College of Sciences."

The co-principal investigators on the grant are Tumulesh Solanky, professor and chair of mathematics, and Jerry Howard, associate professor of biological sciences.

A 2012 report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology singled out a troubling trend among students interested in STEM disciplines: Today fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college with the intention of majoring in a STEM field complete a STEM degree. Additionally, because of the rapidly changing racial demographics of the nation's talent pool, only about 20 percent of students from underrepresented ethnic groups persist in STEM.

"In the United States, sustaining excellence in science depends on research universities, which are small in number but large in impact," said Sean Carroll, vice president for science education at HHMI. "HHMI wants to encourage these excellent institutions to achieve more."

Since 1988, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded more than $935 million in grants to 274 public and private colleges and universities to support science education in the United States.

 

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