The University of Texas-Pan American was one of 42 colleges and universities in the nation to be awarded a four-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The grants were awarded to small higher education institutions across the nation to support a variety of programs to improve undergraduate science and encourage minorities to pursue scientific careers.
The $1.3 million grant will fund several endeavors in the UTPA College of Science and Engineering that include: a mobile teaching laboratory; support for undergraduate research students; improvement of curriculum; and the building of laboratory research capabilities on campus, said Dr. Michael Eastman, dean of the College of Science and Engineering.
"This grant is a sign of the growing importance of biological sciences on the UTPA campus and also a sign of the importance of collaborative research on the campus. The grant involves a collaboration between the chemistry and biology departments as well as a collaboration with UTMB-Galveston and the UTHSC-San Antonio," Eastman said.
The four-year grants, ranging from $500,000 to $1.6 million, will support programs in hot fields such as bioinformatics and computational biology, to fellowships for postdoctoral researchers that include teaching experiences, and UTPA's mobile teaching laboratory, an extension to the more than two-year-old Regional Biotech training program on campus. The lab will be staffed with scientist-educators that will bring science to disadvantaged and minority students in remote areas of the region.
The National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), an institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provided almost a million dollars in funding to UTPA to establish the Regional Biotech Program. The funding was in the form of a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA).
Eastman said the mobile lab would use biotechnology and medical laboratory science to introduce modern bioscience to students and teachers in the middle and high school levels.
"The purpose of the lab is to create interest in modern bioscience and to give both students and teachers the background necessary to better understand that area," Eastman said.
Dr. George Eyambe, associate professor in clinical laboratory sciences at UTPA, directs the lab. Eyambe said the construction of the mobile lab will start September 2004 and should take nine months to complete. The bus will be constructed by the Ohio Specialty Bus Company.
"We anticipate starting our mobile lab service in the fall of 2005. Meanwhile, we will continue providing training to schools in the Valley in our on-campus biotechnology laboratory and through equipment and reagent loans to distant schools," Eyambe said.
The mobile lab will be equipped with a teacher's workstation, 24 student workstations, an audio-visual system, a built-in refrigerator/freezer, laboratory bench tops and cabinetry, wireless Internet capability, lab sinks, built-in generators, lab safety equipment and a wheelchair.
In addition, the lab will offer students and teachers the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment and conduct biotechnology and medical laboratory science experiments that include: DNA testing, DNA finger printing in crime solving, glucose determination in diabetes testing and enzyme immunoassay in disease diagnosis.
"The mobile lab enables us to continue bringing to the underserved students of the Rio Grande Valley a state-of-the-art biotechnology learning laboratory, inquiry-based learning modules, and an augmenting biomedical science curriculum that increases every participant's understanding of scientific research, health sciences and science in general. This heightened understanding will translate into more students from this region seeking careers in the health sciences and biomedical research," Eyambe said.
Eyambe said all schools in the Rio Grande Valley will benefit from the mobile lab. With the addition of the mobile teaching lab, Eyambe said, an additional 4,000 students and teachers will be served to the current 4,200 students and 75 teachers a year it already serves through the on-campus lab and loan program.
UTPA was one of two Texas higher education institutions to receive the grant; the other was Trinity University in San Antonio.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) awarded $49.7 million in grants to 42 baccalaureate and master's degree institutions in 17 states and Puerto Rico. This brings HHMI's investment in undergraduate science to more than $606 million.
According to a press release from HHMI, the organization supports science at colleges because they also play a vital role in education, according to Peter Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs.
"Good science can be done in different settings, in colleges as well as universities," Bruns said. "Colleges are a better learning environment for some students, and they serve underrepresented minorities extremely well."
HHMI invited 198 public and private baccalaureate and master's institutions to compete for the new awards. They were selected for their record of preparing students for graduate education and careers in research, teaching or medicine. A panel of distinguished scientists and educators reviewed proposals and recommended the 42 awards approved by the Institute's Board of Trustees on May 4.
The Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization, is one of the world's largest philanthropies, with laboratories across the United States and grants programs throughout the world.
For more information on the grant or to see a list of awardees, log on to www.hhmi.org/news/051804.html