Claremont Colleges Receive $3.6 Million to Spur Life Science Leaders

Philip Paulson '12 and Associate Professor of Chemistry Kathleen Purvis-Roberts prepare a gas chromatography experiment in the W.M. Keck Science Department.
Philip Paulson ’12 and Associate Professor of Chemistry Kathleen Purvis-Roberts prepare a gas chromatography experiment in the W.M. Keck Science Department.

Claremont, Calif. (May 25, 2012) — The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded $3.6 million to The Claremont Colleges to support efforts that prepare undergraduates to become leaders in science research and medicine.

The five undergraduate colleges (5C)—Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona and Scripps—submitted a joint proposal to the 2012 HHMI Colleges Initiative outlining a plan to instill quantitative and computational approaches in their life science courses and increase the number of students who pursue a career in the sciences after graduation. HHMI received 182 proposals and The Claremont Colleges’ proposal was one of only 43 funded.

“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. “We know that these schools have engaged faculty. They care deeply about teaching and how effectively their students are learning about science.”

The grant will support a number of initiatives at the Colleges, including creating three new tenure-track positions in the sciences, developing new science courses, establishing an integrated 5C Summer Undergraduate Research Program, and devising academic and peer support programs for students from groups traditionally underrepresented in science fields.

“Our science departments have a long history of interaction, but this funding allows us to truly integrate our efforts,” said David Hansen, Weinberg Family Dean of Science of the W.M. Keck Science Department of Claremont McKenna College, Pitzer College and Scripps College.

The grant also funds K-12 science outreach programs such as those run by Pitzer’s Community Engagement Center, which places undergraduates from the W.M. Keck Science Department in local schools and organizations as science tutors.

The grant will help meet the increasing demand among Pitzer students for innovative, interdisciplinary science courses. In the past ten years, the number of Pitzer students enrolling in science courses has increased by more than 170 percent. Over the last two decades, the percentage of Pitzer students graduating with science majors has tripled—from 5 percent in 1992 to almost 15 percent in 2011.

“This grant reflects the growing importance of science programs at Pitzer College and the increasing numbers of students who major in science and then pursue advanced degrees in scientific and medical fields,” said Pitzer College President Laura Skandera Trombley. “We look forward to working with our W.M. Keck Science Department colleagues, as well as those at Harvey Mudd and Pomona colleges, on this exciting project.”

Jim Stricks, Pitzer’s director of foundation relations and faculty support, called Pitzer’s participation in the HHMI grant “a tremendous milestone.” This is the first time Pitzer has been invited to apply for the grant by HHMI, which solicits applications from colleges based on the number of undergraduate students who go on to pursue graduate work and careers in the sciences.

The award comes at an ideal time for Claremont’s five undergraduate colleges, which have all expanded their life science programs over the past 20 years.

“This HHMI funding represents an exciting opportunity for The Claremont Colleges to be at the very forefront of curricular innovation at the intersection of biology, computer science and mathematics,” said Robert Drewell, associate professor of biology at Harvey Mudd College, who will serve as program director. “In addition, the creation of an integrated summer undergraduate research program across the five Claremont Colleges is very significant, as it will build on the existing interactions between research groups on the different campuses.”

Related Links:
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute
The W.M. Keck Science Department

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About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit

About the W.M. Keck Science Department

The W.M. Keck Science Department is the interdisciplinary home to all biology, chemistry, and physics faculty for Pitzer, Claremont McKenna and Scripps colleges. The department is administered cooperatively and is housed within an 81,000-square-foot center located at the intersection of the three colleges. The department offers 13 discrete degree options, including dual-degree programs in partnership with schools of engineering and majors in conjunction with disciplines outside the sciences. The W.M. Keck Science Department provides comprehensive, interdisciplinary instruction in small class settings and numerous opportunities for students to conduct research.

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