June 6 , 2006

ASU to build Arizona Biosciences Network

Networking and collaboration – hallmarks of modern scientific enterprise – are at the core of undergraduate research initiatives at ASU's School of Life Sciences, and the announcement of a $1.8 million award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) will propel the university’s plan to build the Arizona Biosciences Network (AzBioNet).

The network is an opportunity for undergraduate students to interact and develop professional relationships with scientists who work at major research and medical institutions in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Institutions such as the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), the Biodesign Institute at ASU, the Mayo Clinic, Barrow Neurological Institute, Banner Health and the future University of Arizona College of Medicine campus in Phoenix form a biomedical nucleus of resources and collaborative experiences.

“We have a unique opportunity to take advantage of this convergence of rich resources,” says Ron Rutowski, associate director of undergraduate programs and a professor of biology in the School of Life Sciences in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“These kinds of interactions already are going on in the area, and we need a program for students to learn that this is how science is done in the modern world,” Rutowski says.

The network would bring experts on campus to speak, as well as provide field trip opportunities where students and off-campus researchers can talk shop. Students would learn how to build networking skills and how to become scientists.

“The traditional model of academic research is pretty insular," he says. "In that model, a researcher or investigator often works alone. But that’s not the case these days. There are multiple investigators working on the same research. We need to talk with students about how this is done, and why this is done.”

Rutowski leads a group of prestigious ASU faculty and staff who drafted the undergraduate science education proposal that will receive four years of HHMI funding. The Maryland-based institute is the nation’s largest private supporter of science education. It was founded in 1953 by Howard Hughes, the celebrated aviator-industrialist.

In addition to funding the creation of AzBioNet, which will stretch across institutions, people, research areas and community connections, the HHMI grant will allow ASU and the School of Life Sciences to:

• Broaden access and expand the number and diversity of students involved in undergraduate research experiences. The current program supports about 45 students. The HHMI grant will permit that number to increase to 70, and will fund additional research stipends and student travel to scientific meetings.

• Conduct mentoring practices workshops for all members of AzBioNet interested in mentoring undergraduates in research. An annual workshop will be based on the “Entering Mentoring” program developed by the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching. Additionally, there are plans to conduct eight monthly meetings during the academic year, and a series of seminars and workshops presented by visiting experts who are engaged in the scholarship and training on best mentoring practices.

• Tap members of AzBioNet to develop courses and curricula that prepare students for careers in modern science. Annual retreats are envisioned, gathering faculty members from ASU, community colleges and other institutions in AzBioNet.

• Recruit community college and high school students to become involved in research experiences as soon as they enter the university.

“We’re very pleased to receive this grant,” says Milton Glick, executive vice president and provost of the university. “It reinforces our view that undergraduate research is one of the special benefits students receive when attending a research university like ASU.

“The School of Life Sciences, and its predecessor, have been leaders in providing opportunities for undergraduates to carry out research, much of which has been published in scientific journals. The Hughes award validates our views about the good job that the school has done, and it also allows more students to do research in the medical sciences.”

ASU, the only research university in the growing Phoenix metropolitan area, was one of 50 universities in 28 states and the District of Columbia to receive HHMI grants ranging from $1.5 million to $2.2 million. HHMI awarded $86.4 million to help research universities compete in the new world of science.

Every four years since 1991, ASU has been invited to apply for one of the grants. Past HHMI awards to ASU’s School of Life Sciences and its predecessor total more than $4.4 million.

“The programs and culture we created with past HHMI funding has developed a strong foundation and springboard for the plans laid out in this proposal,” Glick says.

In the early years, the Office of the Provost provided matching funds to support the school’s undergraduate research initiatives. Last year, this funding was incorporated as an ongoing budgeted item.

“The support we’ve received from the provost’s office has been critical to the continuing success of the program and critical to the success of our most recent proposal,” Rutowski says.

Others working with Rutowski on the HHMI proposal include Jane Maienschein, Regents’ Professor and director of the Center for Biology and Society; Mark Jacobs, dean of the Barrett Honors College; Maxine Proctor, director of advising and student services; and James Collins, assistant director of biological sciences at the National Science Foundation, on leave from ASU, where he is a Virginia M. Ullman Professor.

Carol Hughes, carol.hughes@asu.edu

(480) 965-6375