Yale receives million-dollar grant to improve early STEM education

Yale has been awarded a $1.2 million education grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to improve math and science experiences for freshmen and sophomores.

During the first two years of college, students pursuing a degree or career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) take a number of introductory courses, or gateway courses. Gateway courses are often the students’ first exposure to certain topics and can strongly influence their decision to continue their STEM education or to switch to another major.

However, 60% of undergraduates who enter college intending to major in STEM — many of whom are from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups — do not graduate with a STEM degree. According to Sean B. Carroll, vice president for science education at HHMI, “the widespread failure of institutions to deliver engaging and effective introductory science is a problem not only for future scientists, but also for all students, regardless of their eventual career path.”

Yale is among 37 institutions awarded HHMI grants to address this issue. Overall, HHMI has awarded $60 million dollars to these universities to improve gateway courses and student retention in STEM majors. Universities were selected based on their proposals to address one of four main strategies to improve STEM education: improving student-faculty interactions and communities; reforming introductory courses and developing new curriculum; introducing course-based research experiences; and adapting freshman research initiatives.

At Yale, the awarded $1.2 million will be used over the next five years to improve introductory courses and curriculum development.

Under the leadership of Paul Turner, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale will focus on ensuring that students develop a strong foundation in quantitative skills to support them in more advanced courses. In addition, Turner and the faculty and administrators working with him will strive to incorporate more active and interdisciplinary learning, especially opportunities to do original research, in introductory courses.

“The overarching goal is to ensure that students have early educational experiences that support them in their learning, and that inspire them to enter STEM fields for their careers,” said Turner.

The new educational programs stemming from the HHMI grant will complement many other STEM initiatives already in place at Yale. For example, the Freshman Scholars at Yale Program provides a summer bridge to Yale for incoming students. Over the course of this five-week, invitation-only program, students fill gaps in their knowledge and are able to slowly and more easily transition from high school to college.

Turner hopes that the improved introductory classes, in addition to the other supporting programs for STEM students at Yale, will leave these students well-prepared and excited for deeper engagement in STEM majors, and ultimately STEM careers.

This five-year program is a continuation of HHMI’s support for undergraduate colleges and universities. Since 1988, HHMI has focused on improving American science education through hands-on, research-oriented, and interdisciplinary teaching. During that time, HHMI has awarded $935 million in grants to 274 public and private colleges and universities to support science education in the United States.