Lehigh University
Lehigh University

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to fund bioscience education

Lehigh University has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to fund undergraduate bioscience educational opportunities around the theme of Biosystems Dynamics.

The university was selected from a potential field of 160 institutions across the country, and joins a list of recipients that includes Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, Rice, Stanford, Washington University in St. Louis, and other distinguished research institutions.

The award brings the total Lehigh has received from this highly competitive HHMI program since 1989 to $5.5 million, according to Jeff Sands, chair of the department of biological sciences, who served as program director for the previous grants.

Neal G. Simon, professor and former chair of biological sciences at Lehigh, will serve as the HHMI program director and co-director of the Center for Biosystems Dynamics. Vassie Ware, associate professor of biological sciences, will serve as associate program director. Both Simon and Ware have headed components of previous HHMI awards to Lehigh.

“The grant,” says Simon, “recognizes Lehigh’s commitment to innovation and national leadership in undergraduate biological sciences education. It’s another piece in a nearly 20-year history of recognition by the most prestigious educational foundations of Lehigh’s ability to prepare students in biological sciences and related fields to address the increasingly complex questions facing contemporary biology and medicine.”

Simon adds that Lehigh recently received a $400,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation for the development of an undergraduate program in Applied Life Sciences. “That award, like those from HHMI, supported our goal of continuously developing distinctive approaches and educational opportunities in the life sciences,” he says.

"Enhancing Lehigh's commitment to undergraduate research"

The latest HHMI award will further strengthen and support the university’s long-standing commitment to excellence in bioscience education, says Sands, who notes that grant reviewers specifically pointed to the focus on research-intensive experiences for students in a biosystems dynamics team setting as a particular strength of the proposal.

From 1989 through 2002, Lehigh’s undergraduate biological sciences and science outreach programs flourished as a direct result of three HHMI grants. The first, in 1989, allowed the university to inaugurate the Biological Sciences Honors Program. Subsequent grants in 1994 and 1998 provided for the development of two major infrastructure investments: the Hughes Undergraduate Biology Center, which offers specialized research support modules for undergraduates; and the Science Outreach Center, which provides a central location for developing, testing and organizing equipment and materials for presentations and programs for pre-college students.

The new HHMI grant will allow the university to broaden its approach to education in the biological sciences, Simon says. A new introductory survey course that includes community access will utilize a theme-based, systems orientation to promote bioscience literacy. A minor in Biosystems Dynamics includes advanced courses that stress an integrative systems approach to issues in life science, including a Computational Biology Lab for modeling physiological processes.

The university will continue to develop its expertise and capabilities in bioimaging through equipment acquisitions and a remote connection to the Center for Comparative NeuroImaging at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which will allow fMRI studies to be run from Lehigh facilities. Lastly, a distinguished visiting scholars component will bring leading scientists in systems biology to campus, where they will work with students and faculty.

Anne Meltzer, the Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, notes that the HHMI grant presents “a wonderful opportunity to enhance Lehigh's commitment to undergraduate research.

“The strength of this project,” she says, “is its focus on multidisciplinary perspectives and teamwork, reaching out to students from computer science, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering, in addition to biological sciences and involving them in life science research.”

The Hughes program has had a broad impact on science education at Lehigh by making research experiences and project-based learning routinely available as part of the curriculum. Several newer programs, including applied life science, bioengineering, and the Lehigh-Pool Premedical Scholars program, have adopted practices that were featured in earlier Hughes awards. In addition, HHMI support has allowed Lehigh’s pre-college science outreach program to expand dramatically over the past decade and a half.

A nonprofit medical research organization, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md., is one of the largest philanthropies in the world.

HHMI grounds its research programs on the conviction that scientists of exceptional talent and imagination will make fundamental contributions of lasting scientific value and benefit to mankind when given the resources, time, and freedom to pursue challenging questions. The Institute prizes intellectual daring and seeks to preserve the autonomy of its scientists as they pursue their research.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, June 02, 2006

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