Ursinus College will establish a Center for Science and the Common Good, connecting science and civic engagement, with an $800,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
HHMI announced the selection of 47 small U.S. colleges and universities which will work together to create more engaging science education, bring more research experiences to students, and increase the diversity of students who study science. The awardees were selected from 182 proposals.
The Center “not only reflects Ursinus College’s rich legacy in the sciences, but connects it to our values of civic engagement and working across the disciplines,” said President Bobby Fong. “We hope it will enhance the breadth of the liberal arts education we offer while also providing experiences that will lead to post-college success.”
The Center for Science and the Common Good will serve as a resource for all students who want to learn about the impact of science on society, according to Biology Professor Rebecca Kohn. It will provide opportunities for science students who want to pursue careers in civic leadership and will encourage underrepresented minority students who are interested in studying science. Fellows of the Center will prepare for careers in science and civic leadership through courses and internships, with
opportunities to explore their interests off campus in the U.S. or abroad.
“Students who are members of underrepresented minority groups will be encouraged to pursue careers in science through early immersion in scientific research in the Fellowships in the Ursinus Transition to the Undergraduate Research Experience (FUTURE) program,” Kohn said. These students will work closely with faculty and undergraduate student mentors developing and pursuing a research project.
Additionally, the Center will reflect the values emphasized in the distinctive Ursinus first-year course, the Common Intellectual Experience (CIE).
“The Center for Science and the Common Good is designed to advance inquiry into the profoundly significant questions about human good raised in our first-year program, The Common Intellectual Experience,” said Professor of Politics Paul Stern. “It expresses our view that an Ursinus education should prepare our students to engage thoughtfully with the world. Because modern science decisively shapes that world, such engagement must involve consideration of the ethical and political implications of science. This applies as much to students who will be citizens and leaders in our communities as it does for those who will become trail-blazing researchers. The Center provides all Ursinus students a venue for sustained reflection on such questions as, “What should the goals of science be? What role should science play in a thriving society?”
The generous grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute funds a seminar series featuring leaders in relevant fields, the appointment of a science writer-in-residence, the development of specially-designed courses, and a program of discussions organized and run by student Fellows of the Center. “All of these promise to engender the kind of vibrant and informative intellectual exchange that fulfills Ursinus’ promise to provide its students with a genuine liberal education,” Stern said.
The Center for Science and the Common Good will open in the fall, and the FUTURE program will begin the summer of 2013. The College plans to house the Fellows and FUTURE students together in campus housing.
According to Sean B. Carroll, vice president of science education at HHMI, the schools selected to receive grants have shown “they are superb incubators of new ideas and models that might be replicated by other institutions to improve how science is taught in college. We know that these schools have engaged faculty. They care deeply about teaching and how effectively their students are learning about science.”
The initiative is designed to encourage long-term collaboration among schools working on a similar issues, and grouped around strategic themes. Ursinus is in the category of “Defining and Assessing Scientific Literacy,” with Bard College, Hunter College and San Francisco State University.
Of 215 schools invited by HHMI to apply for the grants, 187 schools submitted 182 proposals. After two rounds of peer review, a panel of 23 leading scientists assessed 84 final proposals, and recommended awards to 47 schools including is among a group of national liberal arts colleges that includes Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Carleton, Grinnel, Oberlin, Franklin & Marshall and Gettysburg.
HHMI’s grants to small colleges and universities—the Institute’s longest running science education program—have had an important impact on undergraduate science education in the United States, including enabling of hands-on research, infusion of teaching talent, new courses and curricula.