Purdue receives $1.5 million to enhance undergraduate biology education

May 20, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute to enrich undergraduate science education.

Dennis Minchella

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A team led by Dennis Minchella, a Purdue professor and associate head of biological sciences, will use the funds to help educators prepare students to handle the massive amounts of data being produced by new technologies in the science fields.

The grant will support an innovative, multidisciplinary project to integrate statistical reasoning and data evaluation into the undergraduate biology curriculum, Minchella said.

"Complex biological datasets are at the heart of many of today's biggest scientific and societal challenges, and it is imperative that students learn how to perform innovative and efficient analysis of the available information," he said. "Statistical analysis is a fundamental tool for modern life scientists, yet many students put off taking statistics courses until they are seniors. Through this project, we will equip students with these quantitative skills early in their academic careers and will enrich the biology curriculum at all levels with statistics and experimental analysis."

Minchella will partner with six Purdue faculty members from the science, agriculture and engineering colleges to develop "plug and play" modules that instructors can work into existing courses to introduce statistical techniques.

The four-year grant also will provide summer research opportunities for life science students at Purdue and throughout Indiana and will support training for the state's high school biology teachers.

The project builds on a strategy developed through a 2002 Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to integrate mathematics and life science.

Other members of the project team include Edward Bartlett, an assistant professor of biological sciences and biomedical engineering; James Forney, a professor of biochemistry; George McCabe, a professor of statistics; Nancy Pelaez, an associate professor of biological sciences; and Ann Rundell, an associate professor of biomedical engineering. In addition, Purdue's Center for Instructional Excellence and the Discovery Research Learning Center will support the program.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the nation's largest private funder of science education, is awarding a total of $70 million to 50 research universities in 30 states and the District of Columbia through its Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program.

The institute advances scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located throughout the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology.

Writer:  Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu

Source:  Dennis Minchella, 765-494-8188, dennism@purdue.edu

Related news release:
Howard Hughes Medical Institute release