Tribune higher education reporter
Published September 18, 2002
Faculty members at two Illinois universities will receive $1 million each from a national institute to help rethink the way universities and colleges teach science to undergraduates.
Hilary Godwin of Northwestern University and Yi Lu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are among 20 faculty members nationwide to receive a share of $20 million awarded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The grants, announced Tuesday, come as higher education--particularly large research universities--struggles to attract students to the sciences.
"Clearly biology and the other sciences are becoming more important and relevant," said Peter Bruns, vice president for grants and special programs at the Hughes Institute in Chevy Chase, Md. "But we still are losing too many people in science majors and also not touching people who are not going to be science majors."
Lu, a native of China and a chemical biologist, said he wants to develop programs that complement traditional teaching methods and get students involved in research much earlier in their studies.
Lu said the rigid sequence of science courses that traditionally precede the creative opportunities offered by research tends to discourage students. By nurturing students early on to develop their own research ideas, Lu thinks he'll be able to "catch and sustain" the curiosity that students bring to classes.
Lu said the grant will allow him to hire additional staff to help students develop ideas.
Godwin, an associate professor of chemistry, aims to attract more minority students. She plans to involve freshmen in a project that will test lead levels in soil in Chicago. Godwin, who is on leave, could not be reached for comment.
Charles Zukoski, vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois, said the slide in science enrollment is a concern. "It's a complicated issue," he said. "But there's no question we could rethink what our students see as we go into the future."
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