Howard Hughes Medical Institute awards Iowa State second major grant for science education

A successful program to improve science and math education and increase student retention in STEM fields at Iowa State University has received another major grant.

Craig Ogilvie

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) of Chevy Chase, Md., is providing Iowa State $1.2 million over five years to continue its Engaged to Excel program, which transforms laboratory curricula for first- and second-year students to make science more relevant to them and ignite their excitement for scientific discovery.

"The long-term hope is that we can show this increases the retention of STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] majors," said Craig Ogilvie, assistant dean of the Graduate College and professor of physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Iowa State was one of 37 U.S. research universities awarded HHMI funds on May 29. “This is a big honor for Iowa State, and it’s an acknowledgment of the work we have been doing for the past four years to improve how we teach science on this campus,” Ogilvie, the grant’s principal investigator, said.

The new grant, he added, would allow Iowa State to remain a leader in the national effort to increase the number of STEM graduates.

Nationally, about 60 percent of all students and as many as 80 percent of underrepresented ethnic minorities leave a STEM major during college, Ogilvie said, adding that the figure is about 50 percent at ISU. “Students leave science because they struggle with the math, they may not see the connection between their intro courses and issues that are relevant to them, and they don't find introductory course work compelling."

In 2010 HHMI awarded Iowa State $1.6 million to start the program that encourages a participation approach to learning science. ISU students work on extended research projects within science lab courses and explore their ideas generated within the topic of the course, which may include designing their own experiments to test their hypotheses.

“By embedding these projects into courses, we can reach more students than the traditional model of a few students working in faculty labs,” Ogilvie said.

Since of the start of the program, more than 21 ISU science courses have used the student-centered methods for learning. Annually more than 900 students complete a research project within one of their science courses.

The 2014 award will engage more first-year students in science by bringing research projects into introductory lab courses. This will also include new students in the Open Option program for those who have yet to declare a major. Faculty will also take on a new project to integrate instruction in science, mathematics and engineering.

“We are working to ensure that students understand how the math courses they are taking will apply to their physics or their engineering classes,” Ogilvie said.

ISU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering and the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost also will provide funds to further grow the ISU initiative.

Since 1988, HHMI has awarded more than $935 million in grants to 274 public and private colleges and universities to support science education in the United States. -30-

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: Craig Ogilvie, Graduate College, (515) 294-2219, cogilvie@iastate.edu Steve Jones, Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications, (515) 294-0461, jones@iastate.edu