Whittier College Awarded $800,000 Grant to Promote Science and Math Education

May 24, 2012

Whittier College will partner with Whittier School District to launch New Science and Math Research and Teaching Program

Whittier College has been selected to receive a four-year, $800,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to support the College's efforts to promote new, innovative strategies for improving science and math education in grades K-12. This grant will advance the way undergraduates and graduate students—who will become the next generation of K-12 science and math teachers—are educated, and help current teachers integrate new approaches to their teaching.

Whittier was among 47 small colleges and universities in the United States to receive competitive grants from HHMI's Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program. A select group of 215 primarily undergraduate institutions were invited to apply based on their record of excellence in graduating students in the sciences. This was Whittier's first invitation to the prestigious national competition and the College's first award from HHMI. 

"HHMI is investing in these schools because they have shown they are superb incubators of new ideas and models that might be replicated by other institutions to improve how science is taught in college," said Sean B. Carroll, vice president of science education at HHMI. 

The director of HHMI's precollege and undergraduate program, David J. Asai, stated that this program is designed to help improve our understanding of what makes "undergraduates better prepared to be successful as future scientists, teachers, or members of a scientifically literate public."

According to President Sharon Herzberger, the HHMI grant provides a valuable opportunity for Whittier considering that 25 percent of the College's graduates become teachers, principals, and/or school superintendents.

"Whittier College has a prestigious history of training teachers and other leaders in education. We are honored to have this grant that will enhance our already great programs that prepare students to be effective and innovative educators. This award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a tremendous endorsement of the work we will continue to do," said Herzberger. 

With the support of HHMI, Whittier College will partner with the Whittier Union High School District (WUHSD) to launch a new SMART (Science and MAth in Research and Teaching) Program. Designed to prepare students to become leaders in science education, including teachers at the secondary level, the program will advance talented college students into math and science teaching careers, and enable a set of WUHSD's high school science and math teachers to make curricular innovations as they work with the College's diverse faculty and student teaching and research fellows.

SMART's underlying principle is that science and math education is made more exciting for students by placing an inquiry-based, research-oriented pedagogy at the center of the curriculum. This program will improve the pipeline of students from underrepresented backgrounds into careers in science and math.

Upon learning of HHMI's support, WUHSD Superintendent Sandra Thorstenson '77 stated that "this is indeed excellent news. We look forward to working closely with Whittier College to implement this innovative program."

Whittier's student fellows will be drawn primarily from students who are majoring in math or science disciplines and want to be K-12 teachers of math and science; the program will also be open to students from other disciplines and from Whittier's graduate program in education. High school science and math teachers will come from two diverse Whittier high schools that are majority Hispanic. In the four-year project, 20 Whittier College student fellows and eight Whittier high school teachers—who teach hundreds of public school students each year—will participate. Students and teachers alike will make a two-year commitment to the program that will have summer and academic year components.