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Biomedical Program Gets Good Bill of Health


UCR one of 50 Universities Nationally to Receive Undergraduate Science Grants

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant will support undergraduate studies
and research in biomedical pursuits at UCR.

(June 1, 2006)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — www.ucr.edu — The University of California, Riverside is one of 50 universities nationwide to receive a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to advance biomedical and science education for undergraduate students, the HHMI announced today.

UCR’s $1.6 million, 4-year grant, will support programs that broaden students’ access and success in science, such as UC Riverside’s five-week summer bridge program called FastStart for incoming freshmen and the Medical Scholars Program (MSP) that provides a supportive community of learning for students seeking biomedical research and medical careers. Both programs seek to increase the overall academic performance of socio-economically and/or educationally disadvantaged students.

“What we’re trying to do with these programs is provide equity of access to the resources that our bright and motivated students need to succeed,” said Craig Byus, dean of the UCR/UCLA Thomas Haider Program in Biomedical Sciences. “For instance, you may be very smart and driven, but if you came from a high school with limited or no advanced placement courses, you’re going to have a more difficult time than a student who’s had the advantages of more AP classes.”

Or a student who is the first in his or her family to attend college may not know how to access programs and resources to help them succeed or may not realize the importance of establishing mentorship relationships with more advanced students or faculty.

UCR is one of six research universities to receive the grant for the first time this year, along with Georgia State University, New Mexico State University; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Florida; and Virginia Commonwealth University. UCR’s MSP began last year with 15 freshmen and has grown to 80 students this year. It is on track to reach about 300 students in the next four years, UCR officials say. FastStart just completed its seventh year at UC Riverside.

“These are programs that are designed around students’ needs,” said Neal Schiller, associate dean of the UCR/ UCLA Thomas Haider Program in Biomedical Sciences and director of the MSP. “We hold ongoing discussions with our students and, within this community of learning that we’ve developed, we believe that students feel comfortable sharing their concerns and issues regarding their education with us.”

Programs like UCR’s fit the goals that HHMI has set for its undergraduate research and science education grants, such as honing the teaching and mentoring skills of present and future scientists and attracting and retaining minorities.

“We believe it is vital to bring fresh perspectives to the teaching of established scientific disciplines and to develop novel courses in emerging areas, such as computational biology, genomics, and bio-imaging,” said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. “Our grantee universities are providing hands-on research experiences to help prepare undergraduates, including women and minorities underrepresented in the sciences, for graduate studies and for careers in biomedical research, medicine, and science education. We also hope these grants will help the universities increase the science literacy of their students, including non-science majors.”

MSP participants go to community colleges and explain to students interested in biomedical science careers how the program can help them get past the first round of science classes at the University of California, classes frequently referred to as the gateway science courses. The program also provides peer mentoring, study groups, funded research opportunities, travel awards for students to present their research findings at scientific conferences and fellowships to offset the costs of specific postgraduate admissions examinations.

The grants are part of the HHMI’s $86.4 million initiative in bold and innovative science education programs at research universities in 28 states across the country and the District of Columbia. HHMI invited 214 research universities with proven track records in preparing students for graduate education and careers in research, teaching, or medicine to compete for the undergraduate science education awards. The Institute received 158 applications. A panel composed of leading scientists and educators, including HHMI professors and an HHMI investigator, reviewed the applications.

“We’re very appreciative of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and are pleased to learn that they have the confidence that we can provide the support that students need to be successful academically and help them reach their career goals,” Byus said.

HHMI has supported undergraduate science education at the nation’s colleges and universities since 1988. Through its undergraduate grants, the Institute has provided 247 institutions of higher learning with nearly $700 million for programs that include undergraduate research opportunities; new faculty, courses, and labs; teaching and mentoring training; and work with pre-college students and teachers.

A nonprofit medical research organization, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is one of the largest philanthropies in the world, with an endowment of $14.8 billion at the close of its 2005 fiscal year. HHMI spent $483 million in support of biomedical research and $80 million for support of a variety of science education and other grants programs in fiscal 2005.

HHMI is dedicated to discovering and disseminating new knowledge in the basic life sciences. It 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.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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