University of Chicago receives $325,000 Howard Hughes grant for biology outreach programs

July 19, 1999

The University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine in the Biological Sciences Division (BSD) received a grant of $325,000 from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to expand its outreach program to teachers, high school and college students, and science journalists. The four-year grant will help support and expand existing BSD outreach initiatives that focus on educating the community about the rapidly changing world of science and medicine; also to increase public awareness of new developments in science.

"Programs such as this are crucial for keeping teachers and students up to date on important scientific discoveries that may have an impact on them through healthcare and new technology," says Jose Quintans, director of the Medical Scientist Training Program and master of the BSD.

The grant money will be used to support several programs run by the BSD, including two high school student programs: AP Biology Labs and Summer Research Internships. In AP Biology Labs, high school seniors in advanced placement biology courses studying for their final exam, are invited onto campus to participate in discussion and lecture seminars.

Summer Research Internships, which has previously existed as a single summer of intense research in one of the University's biology labs, will add a pre-lab unit the summer before students enter the lab to familiarize them with some of the techniques they will use the following year. Students who prepare a year in advance for the rigorous research experience of the next summer will be better prepared for, and therefore learn more from, the real scientific research they participate in between their junior and senior years in high school. With the HHMI grant money, the Summer Internships program will double the number of participants in each year so that by the second year of the program, 20 students will be on campus each summer--10 in training and 10 conducting research.

"The University of Chicago is a great place for high school students to come and be inspired," says Quintans. "The University is well known for innovation and discovery."

Part of the grant money will go toward programs that educate Chicago area high school science teachers. The Saturday Seminar program brings high school teachers to campus for a series of eight lectures each year by BSD and Pritzker School of Medicine faculty. Following the lectures, up to 25 teachers participate in the Science for Teachers Exchange Program (STEP), which provides them with an opportunity to share teaching strategies with one another and plan how to implement what they have learned on campus in their classrooms. These programs are designed to reinforce the teachers' science knowledge and critical thinking skills and also to provide a forum for networking and sharing teaching strategies.

Finally, part of the grant money will go toward developing a new program for science journalists and theologians to bring them up-to-the-minute scientific information on topics like the human genome project, breast cancer, and evolution. The biomedical issues journalists report on, and the healthcare decisions clergy are increasingly called upon to guide their parishioners through necessitate that both groups have a reasonable level of scientific literacy. The three-day J-LABS (Journalists Learning about the Biological Sciences) program will be held twice over the next four years and will improve the scientific understanding of journalists and theologians as they immerse themselves in the University's biology labs and assist with real experiments carried out by researchers.

The University of Chicago HHMI grant is one of 35 grants totaling $12.7 million given this year to enrich science education in local schools and help attract a broad range of students to biomedical careers.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a medical research organization that employs scientists in cell biology, genetics, immunology, neuroscience, and structural biology. Hughes investigators conduct medical research in laboratories at 71 outstanding academic and medical centers nationwide. Through its complimentary grants program, HHMI supports science education in the United States and a select group of researchers abroad.

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