Volume 8, Number 1, 1999
HHMI award at work
Over the next four years, the $1.6 million HHMI grant will support: (1) interdisciplinary research projects by undergraduates, including minority students; (2) outreach efforts to promote biological sciences at the high-school level; (3) faculty development and implementation of active learning methods; and (4) new equipment.
The HHMI award also will help UD expand its existing NUCLEUS program (Network for Undergraduate Collaborative Learning Experiences for Underrepresented Scholars), says David C. Usher, associate professor of biological sciences, who coauthored the HHMI proposal.
Established in 1993, the NUCLEUS program has served 59 students to date. Enrollment has increased from 26 to 129, and nearly half the groups members have gone on to pursue advanced degrees.
- HHMI Undergraduate Research Scholars
Each year, an estimated 16 undergraduates will pursue biomedically related summer research projects at UD. Students who submit promising research proposals will receive $3,000, plus $750 for supplies. Faculty from various departments will mentor the scholars, so that a student investigating, say, protein folding, might work with a chemist, a chemical engineer, a mathematician and others. "We want to promote diversity," Usher says, "and so were involving other universities with predominantly minority student populations. We hope that someday well see more minority students going into basic research fields, getting their Ph.D.s. This program is one step in that direction."
- Outreach to high school students
With terms like "DNA fingerprinting" now in common use, Usher says, "Molecular biology impinges on everyday life." Unfortunately, he adds, "Its not very portable!" Thats why Usher teamed up with other UD faculty to develop the Virtual Vana mobile classroom with laboratory facilities. Teenagers will be introduced to basic principles of human heredity and development by learning about DNA fingerprinting. First, they will watch a video illustrating techniques. "Students will then investigate a fictitious murder, using mouse blood," Usher says. "They will have to match up DNA in a blood sample to identify the murderer. The samples will be analyzed at UD, and the results will be posted on the web. Well involve mathematics teachers to statistically analyze the samples and social studies teachers to discuss ethical issues related to DNA fingerprinting."
- Faculty development and use of active learning tools
Some five faculty members annually will be selected for the next four years to receive $1,000 and to participate in the Universitys Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education. The funds may be used for equipment, to support undergraduate scholarship, to develop web-based course materials or for any other project that promotes active learning.
- Upgrading educational equipment for undergraduates
"If you take a look at undergraduate laboratories, they have usually been set up to support the traditional, lecture format," Usher notes. "We want to redesign them to support active learning." Students working in small groups to solve different aspects of a single problem must be able to communicate with each other and with a teacher via electronic mail, he says. And, computer-driven probes must be set up to deliver data to the teamsand to classroomsin real-time.