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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU one of 50 universities to receive Howard Hughes grant to continue biology outreach

New Mexico State University is one of 50 universities in the country and the only university in New Mexico selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to receive a four-year grant to continue its science outreach programs to high schools across the state.

Christin Slaughter, center, works on the Genotype-PTC lab activity with biology students at Gadsden High School. The activities are part of the Mobile Molecular Biology Outreach Program from the NMSU Howard Hughes Medical Institute. (University Communications file photo).

NMSU was one of 165 universities in 30 states and the District of Columbia competing for a total of $70 million in grants through HHMI's Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program. NMSU will receive $1.8 million over four years.

Since 2006, more than 3,500 high school students across New Mexico have conducted basic genetics experiments with the help of New Mexico State University scientists and a mobile lab that travels to a different high school each week.

The Mobile Molecular Biology Lab is an outreach program in the Department of Biology. The program takes contemporary biology research techniques to high school classrooms across the state and gives students an opportunity to get hands-on experience with state-of-the-art lab equipment.

"The Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program at NMSU provides a sequence of activities for high school, undergraduate and graduate students that are designed to stimulate students' interest in the biological sciences and to help them develop a more meaningful understanding of science," said Ralph Preszler, HHMI program director at NMSU.

The mobile lab program, created with the help of an HHMI grant in 2006, has been a success?but Preszler knew it was only a beginning.

"The lab was so popular that we couldn't respond to all the requests from high schools," Preszler said.

Thanks to the new grant from HHMI, NMSU won't have to say no; instead, the school will expand its offerings. The grant will support new programs that equip high school teachers with the tools and information they need to develop classroom modules similar to those offered through the mobile lab.

They will borrow specialized lab supplies and take ownership of the process, adjusting the lessons over time to better suit the needs of their students and schools. In later stages, the program's veteran teachers will pair with outreach scientists to develop entirely new lessons and experiments.

"The outreach project provides support and training for high school life science teachers," Preszler explained. "The purpose of these outreach activities is to bring the excitement of modern biology into the high school classrooms in order to help students realize that science is interesting."

Preszler said the program's outreach scientist, Christin Slaughter, works side-by-side with the high school students helping them use modern scientific methods as they explore genetics.

Slaughter's mobility is what makes the effort a success. She takes these experiments, techniques and opportunities all across New Mexico, sometimes as far as Gallup, Crownpoint or Farmington.

"In addition to bringing science into high schools, the grant also supports the work of undergraduate research scholars in science laboratories at NMSU," Preszler said. "Research scholars from our previous Hughes program are now attending prestigious graduate schools across the U.S."

On May 20, HHMI announced the awards, ranging from $800,000 to $2 million over four years, which allow large research universities to tackle projects that affect hundreds or even thousands of students, both inside the university and at local K-12 schools. The programs' goals are to develop creative, research-based courses and curricula; to give more students vital experience working in the lab; and to improve science teaching from elementary school through college.

For more information on the program or the grant, contact Ralph Preszler at (575) 646-5346 or visit http://biology-web.nmsu.edu/hhmi-program/MobileLab.html.