Tuesday, September 13, 2011

FLCC to lead national reform of biology curriculum with $3.35 million National Science Foundation grant

Jim Hewlett
The National Science Foundation has awarded Finger Lakes Community College a $3.35 million grant to roll out a national model for incorporating research into community college biology courses.
This is the only grant the National Science Foundation awarded this year for national implementation under a program called Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math). 
“FLCC will be the national leader in undergraduate biology education reform at the community college level,” said FLCC President Barbara Risser. “National Science Foundation grants are highly competitive and almost always awarded to research universities. This is the first time that a National Science Foundation grant at this national level has been awarded to a community college.”
The grant will be administered by Jim Hewlett, FLCC professor of biology, who has led a regional project since 2008.
“For the last three years, we have worked with six other community colleges as they have reworked their biology programs to include research. We believe that in order to understand science, you must do science,” said Hewlett.
“Finger Lakes Community College’s initiative is a vibrant example of SUNY research making an impact locally, statewide and at the national level,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. “As we seek to educate the next generation of scientists, whose inventions and ideas will drive economic recovery, I am most confident in FLCC’s leadership and commend the campus on this exceptional community college achievement.”
Hewlett noted that half of all college students in the nation attend community colleges.
“Given the community college’s increasing role in preparing students for transfer to four-year colleges, we need to give students the skills and knowledge necessary to become future biologists,” said Hewlett, head of the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (www.ccuri.org), based at FLCC.
FLCC’s work with the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative will be featured in the Sept. 16 issue of the journal Science, the most-cited journal in the life sciences.
In the first year of the new project, the project team, led by Hewlett, will select 16 community colleges from across the country to participate in an extensive program that begins with three-day workshops in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, South Carolina, Oregon, Texas and the District of Columbia.
The grant will then support these institutions – paying for supplies, equipment, faculty and curriculum development, and stipends for student research assistants – for the remaining three years as their plans take shape on their campuses. The Social and Economic Sciences Research Center at Washington State University will evaluate the project as it unfolds.
This award follows a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant FLCC received in 2008 to test its model on a regional level. FLCC worked with Tompkins-Cortland Community College, Delaware Technical and Community College, Genesee Community College, Jamestown Community College and Nassau County Community College – all in New York – as well as Florida Keys Community College.
At FLCC, students have researched the genetics of eastern red-tailed hawks. Students at the partner schools researched cancer biology, coral reef ecology, water quality and other topics.
Studies show that students who do research are more engaged in the sciences. A 2008 report by George Kuh, chancellor's professor emeritus of higher education at Indiana University Bloomington, analyzed high-impact educational practices and found that undergraduate research is one of the most powerful tools for promoting what he called “deep learning.”
For more information, visit www.ccuri.org.

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