CU-Boulder receives $1.5 million award for undergraduate science education

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded the University of Colorado Boulder $1.5 million over five years to continue to transform science education by encouraging more real-world research experiences for undergraduates, ranging from cancer studies to screenings for new antibiotics.

The new award will allow CU-Boulder to strengthen hands-on, research-oriented teaching to students planning to major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, popularly known as STEM, said Julie Graf, director of CU-Boulder’s Biological Sciences Initiative. CU-Boulder is one of 37 research universities across the nation to be awarded a total of $60 million in the new round of funding announced today by HHMI, which is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md.

Prior HHMI funding to CU-Boulder has helped engage more than 1,600 undergraduates in research projects spearheaded by roughly 230 faculty members from 15 departments.  Graf said 92 percent of those students earned undergraduate STEM degrees. In addition, 82 percent of underrepresented minority students from that pool earned undergraduate STEM degrees, and 47 percent of the total number of CU-Boulder STEM students went on to earn doctoral degrees, said Graf.

“This new HHMI award will allow more opportunities for CU-Boulder undergraduates to conduct authentic, discovery-based scientific research, and particularly help in the retention of underrepresented minority students in STEM,” said Graf. “With the support of this HHMI grant, we can provide more research opportunities for students and provide them earlier.”

In introductory biology courses, for example, some CU-Boulder students will be conducting screenings for both anti-cancer drugs and novel antibiotics. Based on the work of CU-Boulder’s faculty scientists, such student investigations will contribute to the existing body of scientific data, Graf said.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, nearly 40 percent of the 3 million American students entering college each year plan to study engineering or science. But about 60 percent of those do not complete STEM undergraduate degrees. Another concern among science educators is that about 80 percent of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups – which represent a growing portion of the talent pool – drop out of STEM majors after their initial college years, said Graf.

The new award from HHMI to CU-Boulder is bolstered by the university’s strength in scientific research, global leadership in STEM education, success in engaging undergraduates in research and a long-term commitment to diversity, Graf said.

“By equipping undergraduates with research experiences and skills across disciplines, this HHMI grant will open doors to exciting STEM careers in Colorado and beyond and contribute to the state’s leadership in the biomedical and biotechnology arenas.”

CU-Boulder’s Biological Sciences Initiative, or BSI, offers multiple programs for students and teachers, said Graf. With funding from HHMI, for example, BSI has offered paid research opportunities to undergraduates in the biological sciences as well as many free programs for K-12 teachers in Colorado.

Since 1989, HHMI has provided $11.5 million in grants to support CU-Boulder undergraduate research and K-12 outreach programs. CU-Boulder has matched HHMI support with its own financial resources and facilities, including funds to construct BSI’s teaching facility and money to remodel a large classroom in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department to make it more interactive, said Graf.

HHMI has awarded more than $935 million in grants to 274 public and private colleges and universities since 1988 to support science education in the United States. HHMI support has enabled more than 92,000 students nationwide to work in research labs. In addition, HHMI funding has been used to help roughly 109,000 K-12 teachers teach science more effectively.

For more information on CU-Boulder’s BSI visit For more information on HHMI visit

Julie Graf, 303-492-8230
Jim Scott, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-492-3114