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Biology Scholars Program Awarded $1.6 Million

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs
posted September 16, 1998

Berkeley has just received $1.6 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to continue its efforts to improve undergraduate biology education, in particular through the Biology Scholars Program, which helps undergraduates from diverse social, cultural and economic backgrounds succeed in the biological sciences.

A third of the money from the four-year grant will go to the Biology Fellows Program, which provides undergraduates with the financial freedom to engage in scientific research.

The remainder of the grant will go to the Biology Scholars Program, one of the seven members of the Coalition for Excellence and Diversity in Mathematics, Science and Engineering honored last week by President Clinton (see "Diversity Coalition...," this page).

The program was started in 1992 with funds from HHMI under the direction of Corey Goodman, professor of molecular and cell biology and an institute investigator; Caroline Kane, adjunct associate professor of molecular and cell biology and chair of the coalition; and Program Director John Matsui.

"We're dealing with smart students here, but when they get into big courses like introductory chemistry and math, they find themselves in a large, impersonal environment that doesn't necessarily provide them with the study groups, role models or peer groups that help others succeed, and they often drop out of the science major," Goodman said. "The Biology Scholars Program helps them set up their own community where they interact with and support one another. They like the program, and they succeed."

The scholars program was designed to "scale down" Berkeley by creating a "private college" environment within the larger public university.

Results from the first five years of the program demonstrate how well the concept works. African American and Hispanic students who participated in the Biology Scholars Program graduated with a biology degree at the same rate (60 percent) as Asian and white students who were not in the program, and at more than twice the rate of minority students who did not participate in the program (24 percent).

Asian American and white students who participated in the program also raised their graduation rate to 86 percent.

"The Biology Scholars Program has provided insights about how to increase the academic success of not just women and minorities, but of all students pursuing science degrees at Berkeley," Matsui said. "Future studies will focus on how to make the university, as an institution, more accessible for all undergraduates, with a continued emphasis on students from economic, gender and ethnic groups which have been historically underrepresented in science."

The Biology Scholars Program currently supports more than 350 undergraduates, with 50 to 60 freshmen entering each year.

The four-year grant is one of 58 announced today by HHMI, totaling $91.1 million, to help universities around the country strengthen undergraduate biology education.


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