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Purdue receives $1.5 million for undergraduate life science education


Dennis Minchella P.I.

Life science students who will be responsible for solving the global challenges of tomorrow need an innovative educational experience to keep pace with advancing technology that can generate massive amounts of data. The 'culture of discovery' at a research university can help transform undergraduate education in the sciences. Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded $1.5 million to Purdue University to fund an undergraduate science education project entitled: Deviating from the Standard: Integrating Statistical Analysis and Experimental Design into Life Science Education. The collaborative project led by Dennis Minchella, professor and associate head of Biological Sciences, is a partnership among six faculty members from three colleges (Science, Agriculture, and Engineering) which plans to inject statistics and experimental analysis into the biology curriculum at all levels.

This innovative, multi-disciplinary initiative will enrich the undergraduate biology curriculum at Purdue. Undergraduate life science curricula rarely feature statistics and quantitative analysis taught in a biological context, yet data analysis is a fundamental tool for modern life scientists. All undergraduates who take biology courses on the Purdue campus will receive early and sustained exposure to statistics and quantitative analysis, often using real experimental data to spark student interest. Small groups of experienced faculty and recent Ph.D.s working together in supportive learning communities will develop creative lessons in statistical analysis that can be shared across campus. The grant will also provide summer research opportunities for Purdue life science students as well as for biology undergraduates from a historically black institution, Purdue regional campuses, and several liberal arts colleges in Indiana. The initiative also reaches out to pre-college education by supporting training and workshops for high school biology teachers in Indiana. Through these initiatives, a large number of students, faculty, and high school teachers will be capable of teaching and performing innovative and efficient analysis of the complex biological datasets that are at the heart of many of today's biggest scientific and societal challenges.

The HHMI undergraduate science education program seeks to support "initiatives with the power to transform education in the life sciences for all students". Nearly 200 research universities were invited to apply for the funds and the success of the Purdue proposal can be attributed to the collaborative spirit of the faculty and the strength of undergraduate life sciences education on the West Lafayette campus. Other members of the project team include Ed Bartlett, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering; Jim Forney, Professor of Biochemistry; George McCabe, Professor of Statistics; Nancy Pelaez, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences; and Ann Rundell, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering. In addition to the three colleges involved in the project, the Center for Instructional Excellence and the Discovery Research Learning Center will support the initiative.

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