Bellevue College wins $550,000 grant
September 7, 2012 · 2:23 PM
Bellevue College has been awarded a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund the next phase of a project that is changing the way biology is taught at community colleges throughout the state.
By immersing students in the actual practice of scientific research, the project expects to boost the number of students who pursue STEM (short for science, technology, engineering and math) majors and careers.
The effort is based on a program created at BC several years ago, also with an NSF grant, called ComGen: Community College Genomics Research Initiative, which Science magazine identified in a recent article as one of the pioneering community college research projects in the nation. Students perform original research by sequencing the genome of a bacterium that fights a wheat fungus. They also analyze primary research articles and interact frequently with scientists.
After completing the enhanced courses, BC instructors have noted significantly greater skill development and engagement among students, and many have continued their science education at prestigious institutions such as the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins University, University of Wisconsin and others.
“Our students at BC have really benefited from the opportunity to perform real research and then share it with the wider scientific community. They gain a much better understanding of biology compared to just doing recycled lab exercises,” said Principal Investigator and Assistant Dean of Sciences Gita Bangera, Ph.D., who created the ComGen project. She has conducted research in bacterial molecular biology at Harvard University, UW, Washington State University and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark).
"It’s especially heartening to receive this grant, where we competed nationally not only with community colleges but also with research universities. We definitely see it as a validation of the great work we’re doing educating our future scientists," Bangera continued.
BC has received over $11 million in NSF grants since 1995.
With BC’s lead, Tacoma Community College, Everett Community College, Clark College (Vancouver) and Olympic College (Bremerton) will initially implement the program, with plans to recruit more of Washington state’s 34 community and technical colleges.
A recent report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), titled “Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education,” stressed the importance of introducing the scientific process to students early, integrating research activities into undergraduate biology courses, and demonstrating scientists’ passion for their work and communicating findings to wider audiences. These research opportunities for undergraduates are common at research universities, but much less so at community colleges, where up to half of all students are introduced to STEM fields.
“Ultimately, this project will open the door to opportunities in the sciences for many more nontraditional students, who make up a large part of student bodies at community colleges, such as people of color, older students, parents, veterans and those with low-income backgrounds,” said Rob Viens, Ph.D., dean of BC’s Science Division.