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Pomona College Receives $1.3 Million Grant for Science Education

Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, has received a $1.3 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), to enhance the college’s well-regarded Biology Department and expand interdisciplinary scientific programs that relate to biology.

Pomona, well-known for its opportunities for student research, will use the HHMI grant to increase these opportunities; to hire doctoral fellows in biostatistics, biochemistry, and biophysics; to enrich its science curriculum; and to purchase equipment related to those enhancements.

"This new grant will enable Pomona College to expand its efforts to connect teaching and research for our students,” says Pomona College President David Oxtoby. “Through my own work as a scientist, I know that access to state-of-the-art equipment and close collaboration with faculty in student research are the key factors in encouraging students to enter scientific fields. This grant will have significant impact on our ability to educate future scientists for leadership roles in this country and the world."

In recent years, the number of Pomona students engaged in research has grown dramatically. All students majoring in Molecular Biology are required to complete an experimental thesis, and this year 90% of the students in Biology elected to do so as well. The HHMI grant will allow an additional 10 students to conduct research on campus each summer, providing stipends, and research supplies to enable them to carry out sophisticated projects. An additional two positions are allocated for students to work with scientists at other institutions, in the U.S. and abroad, where many Pomona faculty members maintain collaborations. The student research funds will also support a summer seminar in collaboration with other Claremont Colleges that will involve both on-campus and visiting scientists.

“Because Pomona College’s own Summer Undergraduate Research Participation program has more than twice as many applications as it can fund, this is an exciting opportunity to enhance student research,” says Laura Hoopes, a professor of biology and molecular biology. “The chance for students to work on aspects of their projects abroad is also wonderful, since it is hard for science students to fit a Study Abroad experience into their schedules.”

Being able to hire three postdoctoral fellows will allow Pomona to provide opportunities for the fellows to obtain valuable experience in teaching and research, preparing them for careers in undergraduate education. Being exposed to the high level of research activity of Pomona’s biology faculty, as evidenced by their impressive record of research support, will give the post-docs experience at balancing the teaching and research demands of a career at an undergraduate institution.

The biostatistics, biochemistry, and biophysics fellows will be able to engage students across the scientific disciplines and expose them to experimental techniques and approaches used in their fields. At the same time, students working with the fellows, or enrolled in their classes, will be exposed to relevant, biological applications within the fellows’ areas of expertise, emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of much scientific research. In addition to teaching, the fellows will engage in an active research project in collaboration with a faculty member.

The two major initiatives to enhance the new science curriculum involve the design and implementation of new courses in interdisciplinary fields and the introduction of new biological interdisciplinary laboratory modules into courses in the physical sciences and mathematics. The new courses include Mathematical Methods for Life Scientists and a redesign of one section of introductory Physics II to stress biomedical applications. The modules, which are intended to be flexibly incorporated into more than one course, will emphasize current measurement techniques used in the life sciences, such as brain electrochemistry, biomedical imaging, microarray analysis, and the use of laser tweezers.

The HHMI grant to Pomona was part of $49.7 million in grants to 42 educational institutions in 17 states and Puerto Rico, announced on May 18, 2004. HHMI invited 198 public and private baccalaureate and master’s institutions to compete for the new awards. Pomona was among those selected for their record of preparing students for graduate education and careers in research, teaching, or medicine. A panel of distinguished scientists and educators reviewed proposals and recommended the 42 awards, which were approved by the Institute’s Board of Trustees on May 4.

The HHMI grant proposal was a joint effort of Pomona’s Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Physics, and Programs in Molecular Biology and Neuroscience. The grant comes at a pivotal time. In 2002, Pomona completed a comprehensive fundraising campaign whose major goals included the upgrading and expansion of all science facilities. This included the construction of the Andrew Building for Mathematics, Computer Sciences and Physics; renovation of the Seaver Laboratory for Chemistry; the construction of the Richard C. Seaver Biology Building, future home to the Biology, Molecular Biology and Neuroscience programs; renovation of the Seaver South laboratory building; and new buildings for Psychology, Geology and Computer Science, currently in the planning stages. Completion of all of these projects, by 2007, will provide Pomona with unparalleled facilities for undergraduate research and education in science.

Pomona College, founded in 1887, offers a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.