HHMI-NMSU Precollege and College Science Education Program


Biology Department,
College of Arts and Sciences

HHMI-NMSU Precollege and College Science Education Program

(March 2, 2012)  During a Research Rally event March 2, New Mexico State University celebrated the $1.8 million renewal of an outreach and on-campus science education program that aims to help young people experience the excitement of discovery through science and research.  The NMSU Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Precollege & College Science Education Program broadens access to science by providing students with opportunities to be successful through outreach to high schools in under-served communities; through the enhancement of undergraduate biology courses; by providing students with undergraduate research opportunities; and by providing the next generation of faculty with training in scientific teaching. 

Ralph Preszler“This is a program that represents a large community of scientists and educators who are working together to provide our students with an almost unlimited access to science,” said Ralph Preszler, principal investigator and program director of NMSU-HHMI. “We are going out to rural high schools across New Mexico. If those students then develop an interest in science, they may come to NMSU and participate in our undergraduate research programs. We have graduates of these programs going to the most competitive, most cutting-edge research laboratories around the country.”

During visits to high schools by an outreach scientist, students participate in hands-on biology using modern technology to learn exciting new concepts in fields such as genetics.  Through the school visits, students are, “doing things that quite recently were only being done in research laboratories,” Preszler said. “The high school students across New Mexico are getting the chance to experience modern science. We’re bringing that in because it’s authentic, because it is real modern science and the students know the difference.”

Since the inception of the program in 2006, NMSU has reached more than 6,000 New Mexico high school students. In the past year, 47 percent of students participating in the Mobile Molecular Biology Laboratory activities were Hispanic and 18 percent were Native American.  Due to the wide success of the high school program, NMSU has started to reach out to educators in order to reach more students with the resources available, Preszler said.  The Access to Science Center provides high school teachers with support as they develop abilities to successfully integrate real-world science methodologies and concepts into their classrooms. Through summer workshops, educators attend refresher courses to introduce them to new discoveries in the biological sciences; attend professional development workshops to gain hands-on experience with the mobile laboratory; and collaborate with outreach scientists and faculty researchers to develop high school activities.  The ASC provides high school teachers with on-site support as they develop skills to run the mobile laboratory activities themselves.

NMSU President Barbara Couture said it is the responsibility of public research universities to help the public better understand the value and impact research has, not only in New Mexico, but nationwide.  “We’re building from our own native population the scientists and engineers of the next century,” Couture said. “It was the scientists and engineers of this last century who actually built America into a great economic power and much of that was done through the public research universities. We can’t afford to be wasting any young minds in the state of New Mexico. And the programs we’ve been talking about, like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, are designed to make sure we don’t waste young men’s and women’s minds.”

At NMSU, the HHMI Curriculum Reform Program has restructured the university’s introductory biology courses, transforming large lecture courses by adding peer-led interactive workshops and assembly-style lectures.  The HHMI program also provides undergraduate students with opportunities to participate in scientific research. The program annually supports between 40 and 50 students.

Article by Audry Olmsted; photo by Darren Phillips.  See more at newscenter.nmsu.edu

Project funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. 

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