Spelman College Undergraduate Science Education Program
Program OverviewSpelman College is committed to providing its students, women of African descent, with the opportunity to study, research and excel in the sciences. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has been instrumental in assisting the college in reaching these goals by providing support for the development of an interdisciplinary academic and research experience that develops and prepares students to be innovators and global leaders in science. Continuous HHMI funding since 1991 has allowed the college to transform its biology program and significantly enhance the research culture in the sciences. This has been accomplished through a variety of initiatives and activities including undergraduate research training, curricular development, new faculty and staff hires in the biology department and in science education, along with improvements in teaching and research resources.
The impact of these HHMI initiatives in the 1990s was extensive as the significant numbers of students and faculty supported and the infrastructure it provided served as leverage for the college to bring in funding for programs such as the NASA Model Institutions for Excellence Program and the NIH Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Program. The success of these programs in building a strong research infrastructure, enhancing the science curriculum, and increasing the numbers of graduates in the STEM disciplines obtaining advanced degrees by over 50%, made it possible for the college to raise money for a $35 million Science Center that opened in 2000. Further evidence of the college's success in producing well-prepared graduates is Spelman's current ranking of fourth in the country in the baccalaureate origin of African American doctoral degrees in STEM fields.
More recent HHMI awards have moved STEM education even further into the 21st century by preparing undergraduates to be leaders in science research and medicine as well as encouraging students to be scientifically curious and literate leaders in society. Student scientific curiosity is cultivated through a variety of activities and curricular innovations introduced through a complete restructuring of the biology curriculum, the use of state-of-the-art instructional technology, the introduction of interdisciplinarity in research and lecture courses, faculty-mentored research opportunities offered across a wide variety of disciplines both on and off campus, and providing students the opportunity to work independently as scholars through student-generated grant awards and team-based research competitions.
Increasing Persistence of All Students in STEMMore about this theme While Spelman has maintained a strong presence for many years in producing graduates who have gone into the health professions, the college made a concerted effort beginning in the 1990s to increase the numbers of students pursuing graduate degrees in the STEM disciplines. Many of the initiatives established at this time were focused on introducing high school and pre-freshman students to the sciences through their participation in summer science programs and through outreach and mentoring opportunities during the academic year. One of the factors found to be most influential with students persisting as science majors in college and their pursuit of a health professional or graduate school degree is the opportunity for them to interact with scientists and professionals who have been successful in obtaining post-graduate degrees and are active in their fields. In particular, students were and are inspired by professional women of color who have successfully attained goals similar to their own. A number of programs have been introduced over the years that have promoted and supported activities that introduce students to STEM majors and careers while also promoting persistence in completing a science degree. These initiatives have included a high school protégé-science mentorship program, on-campus summer science programs, a video highlighting successful STEM graduates, a summer research program pairing trainees with African American women mentors, and an academic year colloquia series.
Developing Inquiry Skills
Fostering Interdisciplinary or Integrative Learning
More about this themeThe HHMI Program has continually supported curricular changes in biology and other STEM disciplines that have focused on bringing interdisciplinarity to both introductory and more advanced courses. Building on the success of earlier HHMI initiatives that supported the development of cross-disciplinary Cognate Linkage Modules, a growing number of STEM faculty have been supported in their development of interdisciplinary modules, case studies, and projects that focus on problem-solving and critical thinking by integrating knowledge from various disciplines and linking multiple courses across the STEM disciplines. Faculty have also received travel funds to attend curriculum workshops focused on introducing interdisciplinarity into the curriculum and have presented their work at national conferences. In order to promote these efforts over the years, the program has supported the hiring of faculty positions in biology and in science education. While students enrolled in various STEM courses benefit from these efforts, the HHMI Program also has encouraged integrating learning and innovation through an interdisciplinary research-based initiative called the Spelman Pioneer Award in Research Competition (SPARC), which is an annual competition where interdisciplinary teams of students vie for a top prize awarded to the most viable outcome to a proposed problem over a given academic year.
Pathways to Institutional Change
The HHMI program at Spelman has taken care to incorporate interdisciplinarity in the curriculum to promote student development. Collaborations between faculty members in STEM departments are vital to creating a coherent science learning environment to foster students' holistic thinking. In the past, faculty from different departments have collaborated to teach "Linkage Modules" that link the same concept in different science courses (for example, biology and physics). This is in keeping with Spelman College's emphasis on an integrated curriculum—"My Integrated Learning Experience (MILE)"—that provides a curricular framework for students to answer real-world questions associated with interdisciplinary perspectives. Currently, there are several interdisciplinary majors on campus (e.g., women's studies, international studies). However, with the exception of environmental science and studies program and the newly instituted health sciences major, interdisciplinary science programs are rare. The current HHMI program at Spelman attempts to make interdisciplinary scientific thinking a part of the student's toolkit at the earliest stage by developing introductory interdisciplinary science course under the guidance of a new interdisciplinary hire.
The work described here has been supported by funding from: the HHMI Undergraduate and Graduate Science Education Program Grant #52007559; the NSF Targeted Infusion Grant #1332575; the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH/NIGMS); Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Grant #2R25GM0606566.