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MIT awarded 3 HHMI grants to promote excellence in science education

Drennan, Walker named HHMI Professors
Catherine L. Drennan
Catherine L. Drennan
Graham C. Walker
Graham C. Walker

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute on Thursday announced three grants to MIT, totaling $3 million, that recognize and promote excellence in science education at the Institute. These grants are part of a $79 million HHMI initiative to help universities strengthen undergraduate and precollege science education nationwide. The resources will help faculty at research universities pursue some of their most creative ideas by developing new ways to teach and inspire students about science and research.

HHMI is making the awards through its Undergraduate Science Education Program and the HHMI Professors Program — two complementary initiatives that are transforming science education in the United States.

MIT Professors Catherine L. Drennan and Graham C. Walker were two of only 13 faculty members from around the nation to be named as HHMI Professors in the 2010 round of awards. Launched in 2002, the HHMI Professors Program recognizes accomplished research scientists who also are deeply committed to making science more engaging for undergraduates. The program awards four-year grants aimed at fostering innovations in undergraduate science education at the professors’ home universities and providing other institutions with effective models for bridging research and teaching.

Drennan, who holds a dual appointment in the departments of Biology and Chemistry, will use her HHMI Professorship to continue to create resources for chemistry educators to help students recognize the underlying chemical principles in biology and medicine and recruit tomorrow’s top scientists from a diverse pool of freshmen chemistry students. She also plans to use her professorship to continue development of “boot-camp” training materials for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in chemistry, to equip them with the teaching and mentoring skills to be the next generation of teacher-scholars.

Drennan also holds a prestigious HHMI Investigator award for her excellence and innovation in research, and has been an HHMI Professor since 2006. She is the only individual in the country to be named as both an HHMI Professor and an HHMI Investigator. Her dual strengths in both the classroom and the laboratory allow her to draw from her research experiences to ensure that educational programs reflect the most exciting developments in the field, especially those at the intersection of biology and chemistry.

“MIT is a fantastic place to create and implement innovative chemistry curricula,” says Drennan. “With the help of the MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory, talented instructors, incredible graduate student teaching assistants, and amazing MIT undergraduates, the sky is the limit. What we do at MIT with the support of HHMI can have a positive impact on chemistry teaching nationwide.”

Walker will use his HHMI Professorship, which follows a similar appointment from 2002-2006, to re-establish a science education group at the Institute. This group, whose approach is modeled after a lab research group, will allow Walker to develop new tools and curricula for undergraduate biology while training young scientists to become educators. The group’s graduate student and postdoctoral members will participate in a variety of teaching and educational projects, and play leadership roles in the continuing development and dissemination of student-friendly software programs like StarBiochem and StarGenetics.

Walker is the only HHMI Professor to also hold an American Cancer Society Research Professorship. For the past 20 years, he has also directed HHMI's Undergraduate Science Education Program at MIT, which has helped strengthen education outreach and the undergraduate biology curriculum at the Institute. Through a carefully designed series of programs, the Department of Biology has integrated high-quality research and mentoring experiences into a robust undergraduate curriculum in the life sciences.

Walker and his colleagues will use part of this new $1.8 million, four-year HHMI grant to share its online science educational tools with a larger worldwide audience through OpenCourseWare. Other programs supported through the grant include the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP), and a variety of outreach programs to engage high school students and teachers.  

“I am deeply grateful to HHMI for their continuous support over the 20 years that I have directed our Undergraduate Science Education Program and for their willingness to so strongly support MIT's multifaceted educational efforts for another four years,” notes Walker. “I am also extremely excited about being able to re-establish an HHMI Education Group, which I hope will once again become a creative engine that drives innovative contributions to undergraduate education.”

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