UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Grant extends successful program for low-income students

– The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded its fourth four-year grant to a University of California, Berkeley, program that mentors students from underserved communities through biology majors and on to medical school or graduate research.

The institute recently announced the $1.6 million grant to UC Berkeley's Biology Scholars Program (BSP) as part of $86.4 million in awards given nationwide to support "bold and innovative science education programs" at research universities.

Caroline Kane, a professor in residence of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley and the principal investigator for the grant said, "this award will help us start a new research pathway to focus on those students aiming for a master's degree or Ph.D. in the biological sciences, to make them more competitively eligible for the nation's top graduate programs."

About 500 UC Berkeley undergraduate students currently are part of the program, most of them low income, first-generation college students. Once admitted to the program, students become part of a community that supports them through their undergraduate years and prepares them to go directly into professional and graduate science programs.

Developed by program assistant director Roger Liu, Ph.D., director John Matsui, Ph.D., and Kane, the planned new research pathway will emphasize, through workshops, internships and courses, the importance of understanding research.

"Understanding basic research is important not only for getting a job in science," said Liu. "Research is about thinking critically, a skill that's important for all students regardless of the career they pursue."

In addition, the program will continue its own research on evaluating the effectiveness of science diversity programs nationwide. A 2003 Biology Scholars Program study showed that biology majors in the program graduate from UC Berkeley in higher percentages and with higher GPAs (grade point averages) than students not in the program.

"Our goal is to research what works, what doesn't, and for whom, and to make BSP a national model for helping low income, first generation college students at Berkeley and across the country attain Ph.D.s and go into science careers," said Matsui, who was lead author of the study.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the nation's largest private supporter of science education, has supported undergraduate science education at the nation's colleges and universities since 1988. Through its undergraduate grants, the institute has provided 247 institutions of higher learning with nearly $700 million for programs that include undergraduate research opportunities; new faculty, courses and labs; teaching and mentoring training; and work with pre-college students and teachers.

"We believe it is vital to bring fresh perspectives to the teaching of established scientific disciplines and to develop novel courses in emerging areas, such as computational biology, genomics and bio-imaging," said Thomas R. Cech, the institute's president. "Our grantee universities are providing hands-on research experiences to help prepare undergraduates, including women and minorities underrepresented in the sciences, for graduate studies and for careers in biomedical research, medicine and science education. We also hope these grants will help the universities increase the science literacy of their students, including non-science majors."

A non-profit medical research organization, the institute was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md., is one of the largest philanthropies in the world, with an endowment of $14.8 billion at the close of its 2005 fiscal year. In fiscal 2005, it spent $483 million in support of biomedical research and $80 million for support of a variety of science education and other grants programs.