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May 24, 2012

Smith College Recognized for Excellence
In Undergraduate Science Education

Today, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) lauded Smith’s success in the area of science education and awarded the college $1 million to support a plan to attract more women and underrepresented minorities to majors and careers in science.

1NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Smith College is among a handful of the nation’s small colleges and universities this year to receive the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Capstone Award, which recognizes schools that are “among the best in the country at producing graduates who go on to science careers.”

More than 187 small colleges and universities submitted proposals for “2012 Colleges Initiative” by HHMI, one of the largest private funding organizations for biological and medical research in the U.S. Smith was among the 47 schools that received grants; only 11 received Capstone Awards.

The $1 million grant to Smith will further the college’s course-based undergraduate research experiences with the aim to attract greater numbers of women and underrepresented minorities to majors and careers in science.

In the classroom, Smith will modify teacher-centered approaches to approaches that are more student- and idea-centered, emphasizing deep learning, engaging with big interdisciplinary questions, collaborating effectively to solve problems, and participating in advancing knowledge.

Three new highly interdisciplinary courses will be developed to provide first- and second-year students with hands-on research experiences within an introductory-level course. A new course will be introduced in each of the first three years of the grant. Course development activities build on the premise that early research experiences are critical in recruiting and retaining undergraduates in science.

“HHMI funding will catalyze a community-wide discussion and implementation plan for advancing the curriculum, improving the learning experience, and retaining a diverse body of students pursuing science careers,” said Thomas Litwin, director of the Clark Science Center.

As a Capstone Award recipient, Smith is also charged with assessing elements of the college’s various approaches to science education, identifying those that have been successful and the reasons for their success. The effort is part of the HHMI mission to share best practices across institutions.

“We are looking forward to seeing how the Capstone awardees can provide leadership to some of the other grantees who are new to HHMI, as well as advise HHMI about our efforts in undergraduate science education,” said David J. Asai, director of HHMI’s precollege and undergraduate programs.

HHMI’s approach differs from that of many other organizations, including the federal government, because its science education awards are made at an institutional level and not to individuals. As a result, HHMI encourages science faculty and administrators at colleges and universities to work together to develop common educational goals—something they might not do otherwise. HHMI grants can allow an institution to try new and untested ideas that could not be readily implemented without the HHMI funds.

“What happens during the undergraduate years is vital to the development of the student, whether she will be a scientist, a science educator, or a member of society who is scientifically curious and literate. HHMI is investing in these schools because they 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,” said Sean B. Carroll, vice president of science education at HHMI. “We know that these schools have engaged faculty. They care deeply about teaching and how effectively their students are learning about science.”

In addition to Smith, the 2012 award-winners are: Allegheny College, Bard College, Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, California State University-Fullerton, Carleton College, Carroll College, The Claremont Colleges, College of Charleston, Franklin & Marshall College, Georgetown College, Gettysburg College, Gonzaga University, Grinnell College, Hamline University, Hope College, Hunter College, Juniata College, Lafayette College, Lewis & Clark College, Luther College, Macalester College, Millsaps College, Morehouse College, North Carolina Central University, Oberlin College, Pitzer College, San Francisco State University, Southwestern University, Spelman College, St. Olaf College, Swarthmore College, Tougaloo College, Tuskegee University, University of Minnesota, University of Puerto Rico-Cayey, University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, University of Richmond, University of Texas-Pan American, Ursinus College, Washington and Lee University, Whittier College, Xavier University.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,600 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190

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