Release Date: June 1, 2017

LTU wins grant to boost STEM education from Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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A third of U.S. first-year college students intending to study STEM are underrepresented minorities (green).  But only one-sixth of STEM baccalaureate degree recipients (turquoise) and one-tenth of STEM PhDs (blue) are underrepresented minorities. 

SOUTHFIELD – Lawrence Technological University is one of 24 schools nationwide to be selected for a new program to boost minority participation in STEM study and careers.

The $1 million grant was awarded to Lawrence Tech under the Inclusive Excellence Initiative of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the largest private, nonprofit supporter of science education in the United States. More than 500 colleges and universities nationwide applied for grants under the initiative. Lawrence Tech was the only institution in Michigan to be selected.

The objective of the initiative is to help colleges and universities encourage participation and cultivate the talent of more students in the natural sciences. HHMI challenged schools to identify the reasons students are excluded from science and find new ways to include students in opportunities to achieve science excellence. In particular, the HHMI initiative focuses on those undergraduates who come to college from diverse backgrounds and pathways. These “new majority” students include under-represented ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, and working adults with families.

Said HHMI President Erin O’Shea: “The challenges this program addresses are important for all of us who care deeply about developing a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”

Finding a way to include all students, from all backgrounds, in STEM is critical for building future generations of American scientists, said David Asai, senior director for science education at HHMI. “Science excellence depends on having a community of scientists that is rich in diversity of people and perspectives,” Asai said.

In Lawrence Tech’s case, the goal of the project is to “revolutionize teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences, transforming it into a college that bases its education on classroom-based research experience,” or CRE, said Lior Shamir, associate professor of mathematics and computer science.

Shamir said courses in multiple disciplines, covering all departments and programs in the college, will be modified into CRE courses, providing research experiences to all students as part of the curriculum. And, Shamir said, these experiences “will be designed in a culturally responsive fashion, allowing students to express their culture and identity through research.”

Shamir said participating in research as an undergraduate student has been proven to increase student retention and graduation rates, as well as boosting GPA and the likelihood of moving on to graduate school.

For decades, educational grants – including some awarded by HHMI – have focused on interventions aimed at students, such as summer research apprenticeships, tutoring, advising, and summer bridge programs designed to ease the transition from high school to college. While these interventions can help the students involved, they don’t generally address long-term issues that, if changed, could have a more sustained impact, Asai said. “Our goal is to catalyze changes that last well beyond the lifetime of these five-year grants,” he said.

An essay by Asai on the topic, “A New Strategy to Build Capacity for Creativity,” is available at https://www.hhmi.org/content/new-strategy-build-capacity-creativity-science-education.

“This award shows once again how Lawrence Tech is truly living its longtime motto of ‘Theory and Practice,’” LTU President Virinder Moudgil said. “Adding research experiences to all classes in the College of Arts and Sciences that are relevant to each student’s cultural background will increase the likelihood of student success, and will increase participation and excellence among people who are now under-represented in science.”

Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Management. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 100 universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, include 17 Nobel laureates. They have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research.

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