Improvement of Biology Instruction Forges Ahead With HHMI Financial Support

UC Riverside proposes a Faculty Learning Community model to boost faculty interest in undergraduate biology teaching, increase number of STEM degrees

Photo shows students in a lab.

Freshmen perform experiments in the Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory at UC Riverside.Photo credit: James Burnette III, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Sadly, fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college intending to major in a science, technology engineering and technology (STEM) field complete a STEM degree. Equally discouraging is that women and underrepresented minorities – about 70 percent of college students – receive only 45 percent of STEM degrees.

But if STEM majors could be increased from 40 percent to just 50 percent, it has potential to generate about 750,000 additional STEM degrees needed to meet the workforce demands over the next decade.

To help achieve this goal, Susan R. Wessler, a distinguished professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside, has teamed up with John Matsui at UC Berkeley, Joel Rothman at UC Santa Barbara and Paul Koch at UC Santa Cruz to develop an interconnected “Faculty Learning Community,” with chapters at each of the four campuses, to allow faculty to share proven, successful methods that improve undergraduate biology instruction.

Titled “Building a Faculty Learning Community that Spans the University of California,” the project has just received funding of $50,000 from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to support activities planned for the first year of the three-year project.

“At UC and elsewhere, the reasons students give for leaving STEM majors point to the need for better teaching methods that make courses more inspiring, and learning more collaborative, active and engaging,” said Wessler, the project leader and a HHMI Professor. “The Faculty Learning Community model we propose can lead to systemic change by building a UC campus-wide teaching and learning community and boosting faculty interest in undergraduate teaching and learning.”

The Faculty Learning Community is designed to help each participating university to enhance its teaching approach and learning outcomes. It will disseminate best practices in science teaching and assessment, and provide a venue for launching new projects and programs. In annual meetings that will rotate among the four campuses, UC biology instructors – faculty, postdocs and graduate students – will discuss a number of topics, including how best to share information on facilitating change in teaching and how to implement effective strategies for involving students in research.

“We want to promote institutional change that increases access to biology through improved instruction and effective programs,” Wessler said. “We will train teams of biology faculty from each of the four campuses to increase the adoption and adaptation of best practices by them and their campus colleagues.”

The project also has a strong evaluation component: Evaluators will measure the change in faculty learning pre- and post-training.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-6050
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Additional Contacts

Susan Wessler
Tel: (951) 827-7866

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