Enhancing Science Literacy and Research Opportunities for Pre-College and College Students


Program Overview

Hunter College, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is part of the City University of New York (CUNY), the nation's largest urban university. With approximately 16,000 undergraduates, Hunter has one of the most diverse student communities. For the past twenty years, Hunter's STEM philosophy has centered on increasing exposure and participation, both in the laboratory and in the classroom, of students underrepresented in the sciences. Our efforts to engage students in laboratory research is coordinated through SciMON (http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/scimon), a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored initiative designed to enhance the research and mentoring programs available to students who study science and mathematics at Hunter College. Along with twelve other STEM programs (Hunter College STEM Programs (Acrobat (PDF) 481kB Feb1 16),http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/scimon/programs/list), HHMI-USE has been enhancing research opportunities both on campus (Undergraduate Scholars Program) and extra-murally (Cold Spring Harbor and the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole). Students interested in pursuing research through one of these programs learn basic laboratory techniques in the Research Techniques Facility (RTF).

In addition to laboratory experiences, the HHMI-USE program has spearheaded curricular changes leading to the development of numerous interdisciplinary programs of study. This includes bioinformatics, biophysics, biotechnology, and behavioral neuroscience. In addition, a science Policy track has been established in the public policy minor at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College (refer to Pathways to Institutional Change section).

In order to increase the persistence of all students in STEM, we have focused on middle school and high school, where large numbers of students lose their initial interest in STEM. To combat this, we train middle school and high school teachers in a lab-intensive, summer molecular biology/biotechnology education workshop. These teachers learn the theory and techniques behind molecular biology, and develop lesson plans that they take back to their schools with equipment and supplies provided by us for use with their students. These same high school and middle school teachers bring their students on two Science Friday field trips during the school year, one to Hunter College, and another to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). In addition, some of these teachers participate in a two-week Teacher Renewal for Urban Science Teaching Summer Institute on Biodiversity and Evolution at the AMNH, which we subsidize. Finally, we have created a partnership with the Manhattan Hunter Science High School (MHSHS), which includes an afterschool RTF Workshop for tenth-graders, summer research internships in a Hunter College faculty laboratory, and a recently initiated MHSHS to Hunter College Accelerated Biotechnology BA/MA degree track.

Cross-Cutting Themes

Increasing Persistence of All Students in STEM

Outreach: The Hunter/HHMI four-week, laboratory-intensive, molecular biology and biotechnology Workshop in Biology Education has enabled us to provide approximately 250 high school teachers and over 20 middle school teachers with research concepts and lab experience, which they transmit to thousands of students each year. The workshop format and composition is conducive to in-depth learning and retention. The Hunter College biology MA in education students as well as in-service teachers found the course extremely helpful, so it was made into a required course for the MA in biology education. Since the workshop is now required for the grades 7–12 biology education MA at Hunter College, public school teachers take the course alongside graduate students. The concepts presented in the daily two-hour lecture must be understood in order for students to be successful in the four- to five-hour daily lab part of the course. Each participant must develop a lesson plan involving what they learned which will be used in their science classroom. The lesson plans are part of their final grade and are presented orally to the entire class at the end of the four weeks. Successful participants earn an equipment and supply budget for their science classrooms, and two Science Friday field trips during the academic year for their students, one to Hunter College and another to the AMNH.


Developing Inquiry Skills

Undergraduate Research: The Hunter/HHMI Undergraduate Scholars Program was initiated in 2008 to increase the number of students pursuing research during the academic year by providing financial assistance to six students who would otherwise be unable to perform research due to financial constraints. The outcome of this program has exceeded our expectations. Out of twenty-one undergraduate scholars who have already graduated, eleven are in prestigious PhD programs, two are in MD/PhD programs, one is in a VMD/PhD program and two are in MD programs. Two students left the program early and three students are in the process of applying to PhD and MD/PhD programs. The Hunter/HHMI Summer Research Internship Program was developed to increase the number of students pursuing research during the summer away from the college. Initiated in 2000, four undergraduates were chosen to spend eight weeks during the summer at the Marine Biological Laboratory working in a research lab, where they develop a longstanding interest in research. From 2004–2012, we also sent one student, out of a total of twenty-five undergraduate participants worldwide, to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) for ten weeks each summer. The cost kept increasing each year, and we did not have sufficient funds allocated to continue. Starting in 2008, out of fourteen summer research interns who were not Undergraduate Scholars, five are in PhD programs, one is in a VDM/PhD program, one is in an MD program, one completed dental school, and five are in the process of applying to PhD, MD/PhD, or MD programs. These students were coauthors on at least twenty-five publications since 2008, not including conference abstracts, or papers submitted.

Research Techniques Facility: We created a Research Techniques Facility (RTF) for inexperienced undergraduates in order to teach basic research techniques and the use of lab equipment. This facility gives students the technical knowledge required to enter an active research environment. All undergraduates interested in entering a biology faculty member's research lab must first complete the RTF workbook. The RTF has an excellent track record and has been used to train Hunter College undergraduates, Hunter HHMI students who participate in summer research outside of Hunter College, undergraduates from around the country participating in a summer research program at Hunter College (RCMI SPUR Program), and NYC public school teachers before they begin the summer workshop in biology education. The RTF Workshop, an afterschool program for Manhattan Hunter Science High School students, is also an undergraduate course, BIOL 210: Introduction to Research Technology, worth two credits. The workbook protocols can be found at http://biology.hunter.cuny.edu/tech/. We welcome additional protocols from other colleges as well as updates on our protocols.

Fostering Interdisciplinary or Integrated Learning

Science Policy: Having established a science policy track in the public policy minor at Roosevelt House for undergraduates, the inaugural science policy public presentation, at Roosevelt House, took place on Nov. 9, 2015. The talk "The Role of Science in Advancing Diplomacy: Opportunities and Challenges" was given by Dr. E. William Colglazier, Senior Scholar, Center for Science Diplomacy, American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Colglazier, a physicist by training, served as the Science and Technology Adviser to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, from 2011 to 2014. Prof. Steve Greenbaum, a physicist, introduced him and Prof. Shirley Raps (HHMI-USE PI and Director) was the moderator, asking questions and soliciting questions from the overflow audience after the talk. A number of students were present. A video of the presentation is available. (http://www.roosevelthouse.hunter.cuny.edu/events/dr-e-william-colglazier-the-role-of-science-in-advancing-diplomacy-opportunities-and-challenges/)

Pathways to Institutional Change

More about this themeThere have been many initiatives at CUNY Hunter College resulting from HHMI funding that have led to changes in the institution.

Funding Acknowledgment

The work described here has been supported by funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate and Graduate Science Education Program under grant numbers 71197-534601, 71100-534602, 52005116, 52006287, and 52007535, grant number 1T36GM078001-01 from the NIH, and grant #HRD-0963626 from NSF.

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