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Howard University Biology Professor Named Among
20 New HHMI “Million-Dollar” Professors
Top Research Scientists Tapped for their Teaching Talents Include Professor Winston Anderson, Ph.D.
Washington, D.C., April 5, 2006 – Teaching often takes a back seat to research at leading American universities. Determined to change that fact, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) combed the country for leading research scientists who, through their teaching and mentoring, are striving to ignite the scientific spark in a new generation of students. Twenty of the best will receive $1 million each from HHMI to put their innovative ideas into action as HHMI professors at 18 research universities across the country. As president of Howard University, a leading research and doctoral university, H. Patrick Swygert, is delighted that biology professor Winston Anderson, Ph.D., was among those selected.
The Institute does not tell the HHMI professors what to do or how to approach science education. Rather, HHMI provides them with the resources to turn their own considerable creativity loose in their undergraduate classrooms. Some will design programs to attract more women and minorities to science. Others will turn large introductory science courses or classes for non-science majors into engaging, hands-on learning experiences that challenge students to think like working scientists.
"The scientists whom we have selected are true pioneers—not only in their research, but in their creative approaches and dedication to teaching," said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. "We are hopeful that their educational experiments will energize undergraduate science education throughout the nation."
"This award represents an important step in continuing a quality undergraduate research program at Howard,” said Anderson. “It will allow us to identify talented students to participate in cutting-edge research at the University, mainstream research sites, and African research sites focusing on tropical diseases such as malaria. Hopefully, these seed funds may be used to develop a HHMI collaborative core laboratory in the biology department which will focus on undergraduate research in the biomedical sciences with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in computational mathematics, biophysics, genomics, proteomics, basic cell biology, and molecular biology.”
"The HHMI professors are as excited about teaching as they are about research, and it definitely rubs off on their students," said Peter Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. "Undergraduates need a window into the excitement and fulfillment that scientists get from science. They need to discover that science is a way of learning and knowing, involving critical thinking, problem solving, and asking answerable questions ...”
The Institute awarded $20 million to the first group of HHMI professors in 2002 to bring the excitement of scientific discovery to the undergraduate classroom.
Last year, HHMI invited 100 research universities with outstanding track records in sending graduates to medical or graduate school to nominate up to two faculty members to compete for the HHMI professorships. A panel of distinguished research scientists and educators, including some HHMI professors selected in the last competition, reviewed 150 applications. They evaluated the potential impact of the proposals on undergraduate science education, as well as the quality of the applicants’ research and educational accomplishments, and the potential for the proposed programs to serve as models elsewhere.
The new HHMI professors are accomplished researchers from diverse fields, including genetics, biochemistry, plant pathology, bioengineering, neuroscience, biophysics, and computational biology. Two are members of the National Academy of Sciences. Two have won Presidential Early Career Awards.
Some of the professors' plans include:
- Winston Anderson, a professor of biology at historically African-American Howard University in Washington, D.C., wants to give his undergraduates "a competitive edge" for entering biomedical science careers. He plans intensive mentoring and a summer exchange program that will take students to African countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, Mali, or Nigeria to study tropical diseases and ethnopharmacology—the use of indigenous plants for medicinal purposes.
- Susan Wessler, a Regents professor of plant biology at the University of Georgia, intends to respond to the proponents of "intelligent design" by guiding her undergraduates through bioinformatic and genetic analyses of transposable elements in plant genomes, so they can witness evolution in action. Transposable elements, the focus of Wessler's research, are pieces of DNA that make copies of themselves that are inserted throughout the genomes of plants and animals, at times promoting evolutionary change.
- Scott Strobel, a Yale University biophysicist and biochemist, will take undergraduates "bio-prospecting" for promising natural products in the world's rain forests. The students will then purify and analyze the compounds they collected and test them for potentially beneficial activity.
This year’s HHMI professors are:
Richard Amasino University of Wisconsin, Madison
Winston Anderson Howard University
Bonnie Bartel Rice University
Victor Corces The Johns Hopkins University
Catherine Drennan Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Irving Epstein Brandeis University
Louis Guillette, Jr. University of Florida
Leslie Leinwand University of Colorado at Boulder
Claudia Neuhauser University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Diane O'Dowd University of California, Irvine
Baldomero Olivera University of Utah
Pavel Pevzner University of California, San Diego
Jasper Rine University of California, Berkeley
Robert Sah University of California, San Diego
Scott Strobel Yale University
David Walt Tufts University
Susan Wessler University of Georgia
Jennifer West Rice University
Huntington Willard Duke University
Richard Zare Stanford University
About Howard University
Howard University is one of 48 U.S. private, Doctoral/Research-Extensive universities and comprises 12 schools and colleges. Founded in 1867, students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. Since 1998, the University has produced two Rhodes Scholars, a Truman Scholar, seven Fulbright Scholars and nine Pickering Fellows. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D.s than any other university in the world. For more information on Howard University, call 202-238-2330, or visit the University’s Web site at www.Howard.edu.
About Howard Hughes Medical Institute
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is dedicated to discovering and disseminating new knowledge in the basic life sciences. HHMI grounds its research programs on the conviction that scientists of exceptional talent and imagination will make fundamental contributions of lasting scientific value and benefit to mankind when given the resources, time, and freedom to pursue challenging questions. The Institute prizes intellectual daring and seeks to preserve the autonomy of its scientists as they pursue their research.
A nonprofit medical research organization, HHMI was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is one of the largest philanthropies in the world with an endowment of $14.8 billion at the close of its 2005 fiscal year. HHMI spent $483 million in support of biomedical research and $80 million for support of a variety of science education and other grants programs in fiscal 2005.