Howard Hughes Medical Institute Launches Nearly $90 Million in STEM Grants

In its latest move to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has put nearly $90 million up for grabs for colleges and universities interested in laying the groundwork for the next generation — and the generation after that — of scientists. (See HHMI: Grants for Science Education).

The initiatives are the latest expansion of the medical institute's influential science education program. Founded in 1953, the philanthropy uses its $16.1 billion endowment to keep the United States at the forefront of scientific progress.

"In the United States, sustaining excellence in science depends on research universities, which are small in number but large in impact," said Sean Carroll, vice president for science education at HHMI. "HHMI wants to encourage these excellent institutions to achieve more." (Read Sean Carroll's IP profile).

The institute announced in March that it would donate $22.5 million over the next five years to the National Math and Science Initiative. The money will allow the expansion of the UTeach Program, which trains mathematicians and scientists interested in teaching careers at the K-12 level.

The UTeach program attracted the institute's support with a well-demonstrated record. It has already been implemented at 34 universities in 16 states. The program has trained more than 6,200 students and wants to top 10,000 by the end of the decade, according to HHMI.

Now schools can get in on the program by attracting the attention of the National Math and Science Initiative. A total of 10 schools will be added to the program, and the winners will be selected after the deadline for proposals closes on June 3.

Separately, the medical institute is dangling awards of up to $2.5 million in front of research universities that are willing to implement programs to improve retention among students in STEM majors. A total of $65 million is at stake, and the grants will go to no more than 35 schools among the 203 who were invited to take apply.

Schools that want to compete need to be ready with ideas to engage students who might be interested in science careers. The institute hopes to combat the dwindling number of students — especially among minority ethnic groups — who go to college with the intent of pursuing a STEM degree. Even more disturbing are the reasons HHMI hears from students who start but abandon science programs in favor of other careers, according to David Asai, senior director in science education at HHMI (read David Asai's IP profile).

"We know that many of the students who transfer out of STEM majors perform well in other disciplines," Asai said. "But they describe the teaching methods and atmosphere in introductory STEM classes as ineffective and uninspiring. We want to help change that."