Who Are the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's of All-Star Profs?

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is looking for a few good mentors. The institute, which has claimed the mantle of the United States' most generous private funder of science education programs, is on the hunt for its latest crop of HHMI Professors. Launched in 2002, the program is aimed at encouraging scientists to integrate education in their work. The bait: $1 million over five years and a spot in the exclusive club of scholars who have earned HHMI's support in the past. (See HHMI: Grants for Science Education).

This year, the institute will bestow its award on as many as 15 professors. To be eligible, you must have tenure at one of the 100 or so American universities ranked as having "very high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. You also need to meet some criteria that signal an active research agenda. From there, the institute is interested in seeing ideas to incorporate research with educational activities that will help build the next generation of scientists.

"We are looking for scientists who have already thought about how to integrate their research with their student activities and who are motivated to pursue tough questions, but who may not have had the time or resources to implement their ideas," HHMI representative David Asai said when announcing the start of the latest search. "We hope that these awards will really allow them to do things they haven’t done before." (Read David Asai's IP profile).

The institute has awarded about 40 of the professorships in the past, so there are plenty of examples of how faculty have used their unrestricted awards. For example, Bob Goldberg of UCLA combined a course called "Genetic Engineering in Medicine, Agriculture, and Law" with a laboratory experience in which teams of students were asked to figure out the genetic factors that affect the development of seeds.

The HHMI Professor program is just one of a wide range offered by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, but it exemplifies the spirit of the organization's science education efforts. The core ideals include a belief that science needs to be more accessible — meaning its benefits must be better understood by the general public, and its doors must be open to those who are traditionally underrepresented in the field of academic research. Proposals that share those beliefs will have a much better shot of tapping into the institute's wealth of resources both financial and social.