SJU Receives $1 Million HHMI Grant for Science Education

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

PHILADELPHIA (April 22, 2008) – Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the nation's largest private supporter of science education, has awarded Saint Joseph's University $1 million to fund multiple initiatives in the biology and physics departments, including interdisciplinary efforts between the two departments, undergraduate student research, faculty, curriculum and laboratory development and outreach programs.

Saint Joseph's is among 48 of the nation's best undergraduate institutions to receive a grant. Colleges and universities in 21 states and Puerto Rico will receive $700,000 to $1.6 million over the next four years to help usher in a new era of science education.

"The undergraduate years are vital to attracting and retaining students who will be the future of science," said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. "We want students to experience science as the creative, challenging and rewarding endeavor that it is."

"This award will help us support many exciting initiatives, including the integration of biology and physics education, so our students are able to understand and address the challenges and questions they will face in the future," said Christina King-Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and program director.

Faculty members of the two departments will collaborate to develop new courses in biophysics and biomechanics. In addition, existing courses in biology and physics will be modified to enhance this integration, according to King-Smith.

To facilitate collaboration between the two departments, a tenure track faculty position in biophysics will be created. "The expertise this new hire brings will be augmented by our visiting scholars program and a teaching postdoctoral fellow position, because both programs will be broadened to include biophysics," added King-Smith.

In 1993, HHMI awarded the biology department $500,000 for a faculty mentored student research program – SJU Summer Scholars – that has since been institutionalized across the University. The SJU Summer Scholars program is a hallmark of excellence in undergraduate education at Saint Joseph's, and the HHMI grant will support increased funding for student stipends and research supplies.

"We will also recruit undergraduate student researchers from nearby Lincoln University, a historically black university, to participate in our Summer Scholars program, which will broaden student access to science," said King-Smith.

A total of 10 SJU students and three Lincoln University students will be supported in either biology or physics as HHMI Summer Scholars. Some students working on interdisciplinary projects will have mentors in both departments.

The HHMI grant will also support the existing biology department outreach program GeoKids LINKS (Learning Involving Neighborhoods, Kids, and Science), which allows both undergraduate and M.S. biology students to work with 400 elementary students, teachers and educational specialists of the Wagner Free Institute of Science in Philadelphia in the development and delivery of hands-on, inquiry-based science enrichment activities in science classes.

"Saint Joseph's is committed to social justice and the common good," said King-Smith. "The kind of outreach GeoKids provides is integral to the University's mission."

GeoKids is currently in place at four urban schools that enroll students who are largely from low-income families, according to King-Smith. "Outcomes are strongly positive and are documented by test score improvements. HHMI funding will permit us to expand GeoKids to students and faculty in the physics department, and to support two additional master's level fellows, who would ideally be interested in interdisciplinary research."

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Associate Director of University Communications,, 610-660-3240

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