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June 12, 2006

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Awards $2.2 Million to HHMI Scholars Program at UMBC

CONTACT: Mike Lurie
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443-695-0262 cellphone

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded a $2.2 million teaching grant to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) to further develop the HHMI Scholars Program, a science education initiative that focuses on students from diverse backgrounds.

The HHMI Scholars Program provides a summer “bridge” structure that helps freshmen make a smooth college transition. During their freshman year, Hughes Scholars rotate through several labs and eventually choose a "home" laboratory in which they will do long-term research. The summer before their sophomore year, they start working in that lab. Scholars also complete at least one summer of research with an HHMI investigator elsewhere in the country, usually before their junior year. Each scholar also has the option of spending his or her junior year as an exchange student in the lab of another HHMI investigator.

Hughes Scholars also provide math and science tutoring for elementary and high school students in Baltimore to inspire the next generation of science majors. They might also tutor fellow UMBC undergraduates.

UMBC is one of 50 universities in the nation to receive an HHMI grant in this round of funding. The first UMBC Hughes Scholars supported by an undergraduate science education grant from HHMI graduated from UMBC in 2005. All three students have gone on to Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. programs at Stanford University, The Johns Hopkins University, and Case Western Reserve University. Five additional students recently graduated and all have been accepted into a Ph.D., M.D./Ph.D. or M.D. program at Baylor College of Medicine, University of Florida, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, and Cornell University.

"They're not just getting into graduate programs, they’re getting into the very best programs," said Michael Summers, the only HHMI investigator at a Maryland public university and director of the Hughes Scholar Program at UMBC. Of 25 Hughes Scholars so far, 23 are African American. While many Hughes Scholars are from Maryland, students also come to the program from as far away as California, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Hughes Scholars will interact with students who are in the UMBC Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, a program open to high-achieving high school seniors with an interest in pursuing doctoral study in the sciences or engineering and advancing minorities in the sciences and related fields.

“With this support, some of the brightest young students who are interested in biomedical research and issues of diversity will have the opportunity to focus on their studies and research while undergraduates and work with some of the nation’s best biomedical researchers,” Summers said.

Hughes Scholars are selected as incoming freshmen. An HHMI grant provides funds for summer research and travel to scientific meetings. The grant also covers tuition and room and board for their first two years of college. Tuition, room and board are covered for the students' junior and senior years through a federal grant.

Before classes start, Hughes Scholars attend a summer program to familiarize themselves with the campus and the research being done at UMBC.

“Summer bridge programs—a component of several of the new grants—are particularly important in helping minority students make a successful transition to the world of the research university,” said Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. “Individualized mentoring and early research experiences with working scientists also are vital components of a university education that prepares undergraduates for graduate school and careers in science. The universities want to offer their students these opportunities, and HHMI is pleased to help them do so.”

In selecting recipients of the new grants, HHMI reviewed 158 applications. A panel composed of leading scientists and educators, including HHMI professors and an invited 214 HHMI investigators, reviewed the applications.

“We believe it is vital to bring fresh perspectives to the teaching of established scientific disciplines and to develop novel courses in emerging areas, such as computational biology, genomics, and bio-imaging, said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. “Our grantee universities are providing hands-on research experiences to help prepare undergraduates, including women and minorities underrepresented in the sciences, for graduate studies and for careers in biomedical research, medicine, and science education.”

A nonprofit medical research organization, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is one of the largest philanthropies in the world, with an endowment of $14.8 billion at the close of its 2005 fiscal year. HHMI spent $483 million in support of biomedical research and $80 million for support of a variety of science education and other grants programs in fiscal 2005.

Posted by crose at June 12, 2006 2:55 PM