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Vassar earns $1.5 million grant to support the sciences from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Poughkeepsie, NY — A broad initiative to deepen Vassar College's historic excellence in both undergraduate science education and science education outreach has been awarded $1.5 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The grant, one of the college's most substantial to date for science curriculum and programming, comes from the nation's largest private supporter of science education: HHMI has invested more than $1.2 billion to reinvigorate life science education at both research universities and liberal arts colleges.

Vassar's $1.5 million award is nearly the largest from HHMI's newest $60 million funding initiative. Over 220 colleges were invited to apply for funds from this pool, and Vassar was one of only 48 colleges to receive awards, ranging from $700,000 to $1.6 million. Distinguished scientists and educators selected the grant winners through a stringent review process.

"This outstanding support from HHMI will help us extend in several important ways how we educate the next generation of scientists, as well as how we further scientific literacy on campus and in the community," said Vassar president Catharine Bond Hill. "We look forward to new opportunities for student-faculty collaboration, and enhancements to our curriculum and facilities that will keep us on the cutting edge. And I'm very gratified that HHMI is supporting our outreach programs with the Poughkeepsie public schools."

Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teaching, research, and inquiry are hallmarks of the Vassar curriculum, and a key focus of the HHMI grant. Another emphasis of the grant is to expand opportunities for students to conduct original research with professors; Vassar's science graduates consistently say such projects are transformative experiences.

More specifically, the grant will support several initiatives:

  • The new "Science Education Teams" program will help Vassar professors develop new team-taught interdisciplinary courses, both within the sciences and spanning science and non-science disciplines. The college expects these courses to expose a greater number of students to science and scientific inquiry.
  • Through the college's new "Research Collectives," professors will receive teaching credit for mentoring student researchers, and all of the student researchers will earn credit for a graded course, an option previously available only to seniors in most Vassar departments.
  • Vassar has found that an effective way to attract and retain students in science majors is to involve them as early as possible in research opportunities. The college's faculty members also recognize that students who conduct independent research are more inquisitive in class, and have more highly developed critical reasoning skills. With these goals in mind, the HHMI grant will also make possible:
  • The new "Diving into Research" summer program, an annual 4-week on-campus research opportunity for minority and economically disadvantaged students due to be freshmen in the fall. Each participant will work alongside a Vassar professor and student. The faculty member will also serve as a pre-major advisor/mentor, and the student will become a peer mentor throughout the freshman's first school year.
  • After its first year, "Diving into Research" will expand to include Poughkeepsie High School juniors in research and enrichment opportunities. When they're not in the lab or the field, the students will attend lunch talks and discussions about careers in science, applying to college, and related topics. The program will also provide stipends to the high schoolers, and cover their housing and meal costs (the public high school for the City of Poughkeepsie has a 70% minority student body).

Posted by Office of Communications Monday, May 5, 2008