Penn State Awarded $1 Million Science Education Grant by Howard Hughes Medical Institute
by Barbara Kennedy (May 20, 2010)
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) today announced that Penn State is among 50 research-focused universities selected to receive new grants totaling $79 million intended to help strengthen undergraduate and precollege science education nationwide. The resources will let faculty at research universities pursue some of their most creative ideas by developing new ways to teach and inspire students about science and research. "Penn State has received a $1 million grant, which we will use to develop a new program called Go Teach: Penn State, in which students can earn a dual bachelor of science degree in biology, a master of education degree in curriculum and instruction, and credentials to teach science at the high school level in Pennsylvania after completing an intensive five-year curriculum," says Richard Cyr, professor of biology and the assistant head for undergraduate affairs in the Department of Biology.
"Students who might not otherwise consider a career path in secondary science education could, as a result of this deliberate Go Teach: Penn State effort, come to view science teaching in grades K to 12 as an engaging and rewarding career," Cyr said. Faculty in the Eberly College of Science and the College of Education, who will work together to further design the new program, have coordinated course schedules so that students can earn both degrees one year faster than previously was possible.
"By selecting these 50 grantees, we highlight areas and approaches that we think are particularly powerful," says David Asai, director of HHMI's precollege and undergraduate programs. "We hope that universities across the country—even those that are not HHMI grantees—will turn to these programs when they think about improving science education."
The new Go Teach: Penn State dual-degree program contains activities strategically designed to reinforce one another to increase the quality and quantity of tomorrow's science teachers. At the same time, the activities are designed to enrich the biology lab experience for all freshman and sophomore students. "The basic elements are scalable and expandable; it is our intent to use the support from the HHMI as a springboard for broadening these activities to include other scientific disciplines in addition to biology in future years," Cyr says.
Some of the program-development team's plans include the development of new courses, including a freshman-year seminar to be taught by science and education faculty titled "Careers in Science Education." Additional new courses to be developed include "Peer Learning in the Sciences," "Peer Leadership in the Sciences," and "Teaching in the Sciences."
Other plans include the integration of cutting-edge pedagogical methods into the training of future and current teaching assistants, development of new inquiry-based labs, and materials for training teaching assistants in how to guide students as they work through these new investigatory labs.
"Our plans include mechanisms for identifying and recruiting the best, most capable, and most motivated biology students into the Go Teach: Penn State program very early in their studies at Penn State, and also students who discover later during their time here that they have a desire to pursue science-education careers," Cyr says. Plans also include the development of procedures for assessing the effectiveness of the various components of the program, with the overall goal of determining how they affect students' initial career choices and the stability of these choices in the years after graduation.
"HHMI is committed to funding education programs that excite students' interest in science," says HHMI President Robert Tjian. "We hope that these programs will shape the way students look at the world—whether those students ultimately choose to pursue a career in science or not."