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Hughes Institute Plans To Award $24.5 Million For Science Education

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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute was scheduled to announce $24.5 million in grants this week to help strengthen precollegiate science education.

The gifts are part of a larger, $86 million package intended to improve teaching in the life sciences at both the K-12 and college levels.

The recipients--62 research and Ph.D.-granting universities--will each receive grants ranging from $1 million to $2 million.

"It's very important money in these times," said George Somero, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., one of the winning institutions.

Oregon State plans to use its $2 million grant to continue existing outreach programs as well as to develop partnerships linking university faculty members and local teachers with scientists from Corvallis-area high-tech industries.

These grants are especially critical given the cuts in higher-education budgets in Oregon and other states in recent years, Mr. Somero said.

The institute "has been the best source of funding and the largest source of funding for a lot of these efforts that sometimes fall through the cracks," he added.

While science programs can "get a grant here and there" from other foundations, the large size and four-year time frame of the Hughes grants allows for greater continuity, Mr. Somero said.

Wide-Ranging Support

With a $7.8 billion endowment, the Hughes Institute is the largest private philanthropic organization in the United States.

Since 1988, the institute has contributed $290 million to more than 200 colleges and universities through its Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program, the largest of its several science-education initiatives.

Last June, the institute awarded $10.3 million for similar efforts at 42 biomedical-research institutions. (See Education Week, June 22, 1994).

In addition to its education programs, the institute supports biomedical research. In 1993, it contributed more than $268 million to such research and awarded $52 million in grants.

The institute was founded in 1953 by the billionaire Howard Hughes, the founder of the Hughes Aircraft Company, a manufacturer of military aircraft.

Its endowment grew substantially when Hughes Aircraft was sold to the General Motors Corporation in 1985, nearly a decade after Mr. Hughes's death.

Community Partnerships

The University of Colorado at Boulder, which will receive a $1.8 million grant under the new awards, has been running outreach programs for the past four years, thanks to a $2 million grant from the institute in 1990.

The university has used a third of that grant to support its work with four area school systems: Boulder Valley, Jefferson County, St. Vrain Valley, and the Denver metropolitan-area public schools.

It has sponsored Saturday and summer courses for science teachers that covered new topics in fields ranging from physics to biology, said Todd T. Gleeson, a professor of animal physiology.

And instead of hiring graduate students to work as teaching assistants on campus, the university paid them to organize labs and presentations in area schools.

The university also awarded mini-grants to precollegiate teachers for materials, travel, or innovations such as hooking their schools up to the Internet.

But the project has also backed less successful ventures, such as an effort to have university professors lecture in Denver schools.

"To try to get faculty to spend a day or several days 30 miles away ... has been a psychological barrier we've been unable to overcome," Mr. Gleeson said.

Nevertheless, he added, the grants prompted many administrators and professors to "spend much more time thinking about K-12 science education than they ever used to."

As a result, he said, many have realized that they "can't be successful unless K-12 is successful."

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