In 1996 Williams College received its third grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The grant is divided between the areas of student summer research, curricular development, equipment and laboratory development and outreach.
The HHMI was founded in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist Howard R. Hughes. The institute is dedicated to the development of fundamental knowledge in the biomedical sciences. Colleges are invited to compete for grants and Williams is the recipient of a $900,000 four year grant. Williams Professor of Biology Steven Zottoli is the director of the grant.
The summer research grant provided funds for students to spent the summer doing research in neuroscience on campus and in Woods Hole. The students did research with Professor Zottoli. Ben Katz ’00 said the opportunity allowed him to “get a taste of different career paths and gave a good sampling of careers in both medicine and research science.”
Curricular development aspects of the grant includes a lectureship program where speakers are brought in to discuss scientific topics of interest to the college community. Recent speakers who have been partially funded by the grant include Jocelyn Elders, M.D., former U.S. Surgeon General; Benoit Mandelbrot, father of fractal geometry and Norman Borlaug, microbiologist, a Nobel Peace Prize winner as well as a Science Journalism/Public Ethics Symposium.
Equipment and Laboratory development funds have provided equipment for the biology, biochemistry and neuroscience labs. A past application of the Hughes Grant funds is the Math Science Resource Center, originally developed with the grant but now is entirely funded by the college.
The outreach aspect of the grant is divided between teacher development, county-wide high school programs and bringing technology to the local elementary schools. A teacher development program allows local teachers to take classes at Williams tuition-free while their classes are covered by substitutes paid for by the Hughes grant. This program has been under-utilized and there are plans for workshops on specific skills to be taught in the future.
The grant also provides for Berkshire County high school students interested in science to spend a summer touring various labs for an introduction to research science.
The Hughes grant enabled Williams to donate to Williamstown Elementary School 24 Apple IIsi’s and upgrade their memory.
The grant provides funds for Student Technology Consultants from Williams to work in the local elementary school. Williams Science Liaison Jennifer Swoaps hired seven students who work a total of 60 hours a week at Williamstown elementary schools. The elementary school has three computer labs where students between second and sixth grade work on word processing, net research and keyboarding skills.
Mary Kavanaugh, technology consultant at the elementary school, described the difference in the school’s technological capacities before and after the grant as similar to that “between night and day. Students who live in the ’boonies’ are now able to access information on everything from the revolutionary war to an interactive site on research on the Yucatan Peninsula.”
She described the technology consultants as “invaluable,” citing the example of a Mount Holyoke school district that “had a million dollar lab sit and collect dust for a year because the district had no one to operate the lab.”
Kavanaugh summarized the role of the technology consultants as designing and integrating curriculum.
Roosevelt Bowman ’99, one of the technology consultants, sees his role as “helping teachers who aren’t good with computers.” He described the teachers as “pretty receptive” to learning about the new technology
He has been working in the elementary school for a year and a half. He previously worked in Driscoll and initially saw the technology job simply as something “better than the dining hall.” He now finds it rewarding because of “that good feeling when kids surpass an expectation or solve a problem after you give them a little hint and they get it. ”
Jennifer Rosenthal, a fourth grader at the elementary school, is enthusiastic about the daily trips her class makes to the computer center. Her class is currently working on a typing program which she deems good “because if you never learn to type, you’ll always be slow.” She described the technology consultants as “very helpful, especially when you want to get a drink and they take over your program for you.”
Zottoli described the grant as having “made a great deal of difference in the sciences, infused money into the curriculum and spread a wealth of knowledge from the college to local high and elementary schools.” He praised the program in the elementary schools for allowing Williams students to “both teach others and learn for themselves about careers in teaching and technology.”
Kavanaugh also emphasized the importance of interaction between the college and the schools in the success of the Hughes grant for outreach, citing “tremendous support from members of the Williams community in the success of the program in the elementary school.”
President Payne, summarizing the effect of the grant on the community said “many of the good things which have happened in science in the past few years have been touched by the grant, which is the single most important foundation support for our efforts.”