ANNAPOLIS – Sara Brooks, a 20-year-old senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, was planning on working a retail job this summer. After all, she needed the money.
Instead, thanks to a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, she researched cell division in plants, hoping to better understand how and why they grow.
“This grant allowed me to stay on campus and get valuable job skills, instead of working some retail job back home,” Brooks said. Of the $52.5 million grant, distributed to 42 universities in 1992, Brooks was given a $2,000 stipend for living expenses and received another $2,000 to cover research costs.
On Wednesday, the medical institute announced it was awarding another grant for undergraduate science education – this one for $91.1 million. The grant will fund projects at 58 U.S. universities from 1998-2002.
In Maryland, UMCP and Johns Hopkins University each received $1.6 million grants. This the second time UMCP has won the grant, and the third time for Johns Hopkins.
In the District of Columbia, Georgetown University was awarded a $1.2 million grant, and Howard University received $1.6 million.
The University of Virginia in Charlottesville won $1.2 million, and William and Mary in Williamsburg received $1.6 million.
Both UMCP and Hopkins plan to spend the money by paying undergraduates to conduct their own research.
“With this grant,” said William J. Higgins, associate dean of UMCP’s College of Life Sciences, “we can recruit the top-level students coming out of high school – the very best of the very best.”
At UMCP, where Brooks is researching plant growth, the grant will enable 40 students a semester to develop research proposals, conduct experiments and submit findings to national scientific journals for publication, Higgins said.
“This grant gives students the extra, out-of-classroom experience that completes their educations,” he said.
Indeed, he added, most of the students who participate in the grant’s programs go on to obtain Ph.D.s or medical degrees.
Roughly 80 percent of Hopkins’ students who benefit from the grants go on to publish their results in nationally peer-reviewed journals, said Gary Ostrander, associate dean for research at the school of arts and sciences.
At Hopkins, the medical institute’s grant will be used to renovate science laboratories, add new courses to the curriculum and, of course, pay for undergraduate research.
“Hopkins is not just a high-powered research center,” Ostrander said. “It also has a real commitment to undergraduate education.”
The medical institute, established by billionaire movie maker/aviator Howard Hughes, is primarily a medical research organization with more than 330 scientists working in cell biology, genetics, immunology, neuroscience and structural biology. It started its undergraduate grant-giving program in 1988.
“Our grants program was developed to train the next generation of biomedical researchers,” said Dr. Joseph Perpich, vice president for grants and special programs at the medical institute.
Perpich said the $91.1 million for study of the life sciences couldn’t come at a better time. Whereas the 20th century belonged to the physicists, he said, the 21st century will belong to the biologists, because of the advances taking place in cloning and human genome research. “We began this program to help colleges and universities bring the intellectual excitement of this discipline to undergraduates,” Perpich said. “It permits students to do research they really couldn’t do before.” -30-