Science for Life: College will play leading role in UF’s $1.5 million science education initiative

Bolstered by a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the College of Education will team with nearly 50 UF academic departments in 10 colleges in an ambitious effort to close the critical gap in science education, starting with UF’s own student body.


June 5, 2006



Bolstered by a $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the College of Education will team with nearly 50 UF academic departments in 10 colleges in an ambitious effort to close the critical gap in science education, starting with UF’s own student body.

With the university and other sources contributing more than $2 million in matching funds, the total investment in the Science For Life initiative will approach nearly $4 million. Plans call for creating a new interdisciplinary science teaching laboratory, undergraduate opportunities for authentic research experiences and a series of innovative new courses.

“The HHMI award will bring together early undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members campuswide to teach and learn from each other in a way no other facility in the state does now,” said Randy Duran, the grant’s lead researcher and an associate professor of chemistry in UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "UF has a very talented freshman class, and we want to make stimulating opportunities available to these students."

Education Dean Catherine Emihovich, who will lead a teaching mentorship program for postdoctoral research fellows funded by the Hughes award, said the overarching theme of Science For Life is to recruit and support future scientists, but it’s not the only objective.

“Science For Life will strengthen the science base for society and the next generation of voters who will be determining pressing societal issues requiring a sound background in science and math, such as cloning and stem cell research,” Emihovich said. “More and more, biological discoveries are emerging from interactions with other disciplines such as chemistry, mathematics and computer science, but undergraduate biology education is having a hard time keeping up.”

The university will use the grant money to create the HHMI Undergraduate Core Laboratory at UF’s Health Science Center. The 2,000-square-foot facility will be devoted to cross-disciplinary teaching and laboratory work. Future plans call for building another core lab in the College of Education’s Norman Hall for the teaching component.

UF hopes to fund 70 to 100 freshman research awards annually. An extramural research program will send more experienced undergraduates to Scripps Florida and some of the outstanding life science research labs in Europe to further their education.

Education faculty will be among some 150 faculty from 49 UF academic departments involved in Science For Life. COE faculty also will be able to compete for at least 25 HHMI term professorships (committed to mentoring undergraduate students in research and science), each worth $10,000 over a two-year period.

Along with Emihovich’s leadership of the mentoring component, Tom Dana, chair of the college’s School of Teaching and Learning, sits on the program’s campuswide faculty advisory board.

Troy Sadler, assistant professor in Teaching and Learning, will lead some of the science education initiatives and will help develop the curriculum aimed at effecting a fundamental change in the teaching of the life sciences to undergraduates at UF. He also will develop a new graduate level course in College Science Teaching and Mentoring, specifically designed for students pursuing graduate degrees in the sciences. The course will be taught by COE faculty from the science education program and cross-listed in life sciences programs.

A new science education minor program also will be developed to help resolve the critical shortage of qualified science teachers.

“The science-ed minor program represents a new model for science teacher preparation at UF. We hope to promote science teaching as a viable and exciting profession to some of UF’s most talented students,” Sadler said. “Even students who choose not to cecome classroom teachers will become better prepared to assume their de facto roles as science educators.”

Linda Behar-Horenstein and Luis Ponjuan, two COE faculty members in Educational Administration and Policy, will evaluate the effectiveness of each HHMI program component and disseminate their findings at national and international conferences and in professional journals and digital libraries such as BiosciEdNet.

An outreach component, called Science For Life Alliance, reaches out into the high schools and middle schools to engage and prepare future science majors and to strengthen science teaching through professional development activities with their teachers. The program builds on the College of Education’s existing partnerships—through its UF Alliance program—with underserved inner-city high schools in Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami and will include annual, weeklong summer institutes for participating students.

UF Science For Life faculty are working with the biotech industry to update UF Alliance school science laboratories, and curricular materials developed by the partnering UF Alliance teachers will be disseminated through the Florida Association of Science Teachers and other meetings.

“The College of Education is playing a leading role in a high-profile research and education initiative that promises to make a big splash in science education and the life sciences, across campus and across the nation,” Dean Emihovich said.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute — the nation’s largest private supporter of science education — awarded grants to 50 universities totaling $86.4 million. UF is one of six universities to receive the grant for the first time out of 160 applications.