Yale and Community Science Programs Receive Major HHMI Grant; Mentorship Programs, Lab Demonstrations On Tap for City Schools

Science education programs for New Haven students from elementary school through Yale College will be funded by a four-year, $1.8 million grant to Yale University from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The programs start with third through fifth graders who will get to do hands-on science experiments with Yale undergraduate student volunteers. At the other end of the age scale, the grant also provides New Haven Public School science teachers with in-service seminars led by Yale faculty.

The grant is an extension of HHMI support for Yale and the community over the last nine years. The programs are designed to ignite the enthusiasm of students by involving them in the scientific process and providing opportunities to conduct research under the guidance of faculty members, according to biology professor Robert Wyman, who is principal investigator on the grant, and Judith Hackman, associate dean of Yale College.

“We found that Yale science students were coming into large introductory science courses and becoming alienated, so we designed ways for them to get one-on-one attention, mentorship contacts and a more personalized education in laboratories,” Professor Wyman said.

In an imaginative new departure, the chemistry department will introduce a new Freshman Laboratory, which joins chemistry, biology and ecology. A large fish tank with plants and animals will be used as an example of an environment that the students can use for experiments. The idea is to learn basic chemistry in a way that reflects real world situations and that provides the kind of scientific understanding that is necessary for wise management of our overstressed environment, according to Professor Kurt Zilm, who is spearheading the lab along with lecturer Christine Dimeglio.

Some programs are focused on students who have had stellar science backgrounds in high school, Wyman said. In “Perspectives on Science,” leading research faculty meet with the very best science freshmen and women to discuss current areas of “hot” research. These students then get an opportunity to work in the professors’ laboratories during the following summer. Perspectives is being organized by applied physics professor Douglas Stone.

Other programs are designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who choose science as a career. The Science, Technology and Research Scholars Program, under the directorship of chemistry lecturer Iona Black, invites women and minorities to study group workshops to support their individual efforts.

A number of programs join Yale and the New Haven community, including support for the Yale-New Haven Teachers’ Institute science seminars. Science teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade collaborate with Yale faculty to develop modern science curricula for their classes. At the new Career High School, HHMI funds are supporting summer workshops in the sciences for students and teachers. The program also supports Yale students who choose to work toward earning a Connecticut State teaching accreditation.

In DEMOS, short for Demonstrations in Science, a group of Yale undergraduate students volunteer their time to teach basic science concepts to virtually all third, fourth and fifth graders in 21 New Haven public schools. In addition to conducting hands-on laboratory experiments, the Yale students also run several after-school science clubs and sponsor science fairs. More than 100 classrooms have been visited by DEMOS teams in the last five years.

SMArT, an acronym for Science and Mathematics Achiever Teams, was organized by Yale undergraduates in 1990 and pairs Yale students with students at Troup Middle School Magnet Academy of Science to help them design and conduct science and math research projects. Projects have ranged from reconstruction of an animal skeleton to an archeological dig. SMArT recently expanded to Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven and to the Chicago area.

The U.S. Grant Foundation provides New Haven school children with a year-round mentorship program that involves undergraduate students working with talented and motivated middle school and high school students to prepare them academically and emotionally for college. Activities include a set of intensive, 10-week summer courses in science and non-science courses.

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