AUSTIN, Texas—The Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), a new program in the College of Natural Sciences that promotes undergraduate research participation at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a $1.9 million award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
The HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Program Award was granted to Dr. Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the college, and Dr. Hank Bose, director of the School of Biological Sciences. It will be used to expand the biology portion of FRI, an innovative program that seeks to include large numbers of freshman and sophomore undergraduates in original research projects.
“We’re very pleased to have the opportunity to expand the reach of the Freshman Research Initiative with HHMI’s support,” says Rankin. “Involving students in real research projects early in their educational experience is critical to their success.”
The FRI program provides a supportive environment for students to learn research methods and at the same time is an innovative way for natural sciences faculty to interact with students in a research setting. Students are encouraged to apply during new student summer orientation.
New freshmen accepted into FRI complete a research methods course their first semester and begin working on participating faculty members’ research projects during their second semester. Students choose projects in several “research streams”—biochemistry, nanotechnology, molecular biology, biology and computer science.
Special laboratory spaces have been created for students to work on their projects, interact with each other and receive support from their faculty and graduate student mentors. In the spring of their sophomore year, FRI students serve as peer teaching assistants to new program participants.
FRI enrolled 44 students during its pilot in fall 2005. The program was well received by faculty and students and will expand to include as many as 150 students in 2006.
“It is absolutely critical that we use the research strengths of our university to directly support our educational mission and that the research, in turn, benefits from this involvement,” says Dr. Sarah Simmons, FRI program director. “This program engages students in the excitement of research, trains them as researchers and positively influences their career considerations and success.”
The HHMI funding will support new research educators, who will be responsible for maintaining the FRI research labs as a positive teaching and learning environment. The funding will also support graduate students involved in FRI-related research projects, summer fellowships for undergraduates and upgraded space and supplies.