Submitted by Patricia M. Allen

April 22, 2008
Contact: Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations


AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College has received a $1.3 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to expand its science and research programs and educational outreach initiatives. The funding will support summer research fellowships for Amherst students, a faculty position in molecular neuroscience, new lab equipment and collaborations with area schools, among other things, according to Stephen George, program director and professor in biology and neuroscience at the college.

One of just 48 undergraduate institutions in the country awarded such a grant, Amherst was selected through a stringent review process by a panel of distinguished scientists and educators that considered the applications of 192 schools. HHMI initially invited proposals from just 224 colleges with a track record of preparing undergraduate students for research careers.

“The undergraduate years are vital to attracting and retaining students who will be the future of science,” said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. “We want students to experience science as the creative, challenging and rewarding endeavor that it is.” He added: “Liberal arts colleges—particularly some of our grantee institutions—have long been successful in educating future scientists.”

Amherst’s plans for the HHMI grant call for increasing the number of student summer research fellowships, launching a weekly journal club where undergraduates will read the latest research in their area of study and creating a program through which Amherst students can share ideas and hypotheses with students from nearby Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges.

In addition, the college will use some of the funds to the hire a tenure-track molecular neurobiologist, who will teach a new course at Amherst and supplement material taught in existing courses. That new faculty member will also expand the types of research opportunities open to undergraduates.

“Many Amherst alumni graduate each year and embark on distinguished careers in the sciences,” said George. “This grant will open doors for those students who wish to follow in their footsteps and give more of our aspiring scientists chances to conduct scientific research during their undergraduate years—experiences that will position them well for internships and jobs in the sciences in the future. It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved.”

“This is great news for the sciences at Amherst, a wonderful endorsement of the college’s research program, faculty and curriculum,” added Gregory S. Call, Amherst’s dean of the faculty, who explained that the college has received grants from the HHMI for several years (the most recent being a $1.3 million award for Amherst’s genomic biology program in 2004). “We’re thrilled to receive HHMI’s continued support.”

HHMI is the nation’s largest private supporter of science education. It has invested more than $1.2 billion in grants to reinvigorate life science education at both research universities and liberal arts colleges and to engage the nation’s leading scientists in teaching. In 2007, it launched the Science Education Alliance, which will serve as a national resource for the development and distribution of innovative science education materials and methods.

One of the world's largest philanthropies, HHMI is a nonprofit medical research organization that employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefront of their fields. HHMI has an endowment of approximately $18.7 billion. Its headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Md., just outside Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with approximately 1,600 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B.A. degree in 34 fields of study.