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December 12, 2007

UMBC Among 12 Universities Chosen by HHMI to Launch Nationwide Science Education Initiative

Professors Sandoz, Caruso to Give Freshmen Early Genomics Research Experience

CONTACT: Chip Rose, UMBC News

BALTIMORE -- The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has chosen UMBC as part of a collaborative network of 12 colleges and universities to teach a new, hands-on genomics course aimed at involving more U.S. first-year college students in authentic research.

The course is the first major initiative from HHMI's Science Education Alliance (SEA), which seeks to enhance science education and inspire new generations of scientists. The year-long research course will be part of the SEA’s Phage Genomics Research Initiative. HHMI received 44 applications and selected 12 institutions for the Initiative.

UMBC biological sciences professors Jim Sandoz and Steve Caruso will work with UMBC’s Honors College to develop a fall 2008 course for freshmen science and non-science majors. Students in the class will collect soil samples on campus and use sophisticated lab and computer-based genomics and gene sequencing techniques to identify new bacteriophages. Bacteriophages, or phages for short, are common forms of viruses which infect bacteria and could offer insight into some types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“SEA takes the best ideas from the individual teaching experiments that HHMI has supported over the past 20 years and makes them broadly accessible to scientists and educators around the country,” said Michael Summers, professor of biochemistry and HHMI Investigator at UMBC. “UMBC has been at the forefront of science education, especially in enhancing retention rates among minority students, so it’s both exciting and appropriate that UMBC is part of these new efforts,” said Summers, who is the only HHMI Investigator at a Maryland public university. “We have a lot to learn from our colleagues in the SEA consortium, but we also have much to offer.”

SEA represents a new, more active involvement by HHMI in catalyzing change in science education. HHMI is committing $4 million over the program’s first four years and staffing SEA with its own employees. SEA will provide up to three years of support from HHMI to assist with faculty training, computing and DNA sequencing services for the course.

“The initial institutions we have selected represent a broad sampling of high quality higher education,” said Peter J. Bruns, vice president for grants and special programs at HHMI. “Although diverse in size and location, all participating schools share a desire to bring authentic discovery to freshman instruction. I am impressed by their commitment to the project and eagerly wait to see what a working alliance of such a diverse, yet commonly committed community, will yield.”

The other universities chosen for the 2008-2009 program are: Carnegie Mellon University, The College of William & Mary, Hope College, James Madison University, Oregon State University, Spelman College, the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, Santa Cruz, the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the University of Mary Washington and Washington University in St. Louis.

Based at HHMI's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Northern Virginia, SEA aims to build a collaborative network of U.S. scientists and educators to develop and distribute new instructional materials and methods while encouraging students to produce real research results. HHMI built SEA based on over two decades of supporting science education and research.

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Posted by crose at December 12, 2007 10:13 AM