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Bethel College, graduate, recognized for excellence in science education

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For the third time, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has recognized Bethel College for the high number of its science majors who go on to earn M.D. degrees and/or Ph.D. degrees in the sciences. Bethel was recognized in 1996 and 2003 and most recently this year.

HHMI, a major supporter of biomedical science teaching and research worldwide, has been recognizing American colleges and universities in this way, through its program called Initiatives for Colleges, every four years starting in 1996. No other four-year college or master’s degree-granting university in the state of Kansas has received the honor.

To identify institutions for recognition, HHMI assesses the most recent 10-year period for which data are available on both the percentage and the absolute number of graduates from U.S. institutions who have entered medical school or have earned doctorates in biology, chemistry, physics or mathematics.

“This assessment by an independent agency highlights the ability of Bethel science students to be competitive in the national arena, achieving high professional goals in science and medicine,” said A. Wayne Wiens, Bethel professor of biology.

Begun in 1984, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a nonprofit medical research organization that through its grants program helps enhance science education and employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists. The Institute is one of the world’s largest philanthropies, with laboratories across the United States and grant programs around the world. Its endowment in fiscal year 2005 was approximately $14.8 billion. It has become the nation’s largest private source of support for biomedical research and science education.

In another HHMI program recognizing biological and biomedical scientists for their creativity and productivity, Bonnie Bartel, a 1983 Bethel graduate, was recently selected an “HHMI professor.” The goal of the HHMI Professor Program is to “recognize and support innovative approaches to teaching, infusing undergraduate science with the excitement and rigor of scientific research as a model for fundamental reform of the way undergraduate science is taught at research universities.”

Bartel majored in biology at Bethel and earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is Ralph and Dorothy Looney Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology in the department of biochemistry and cellular biology at Rice University.

One of the HHMI’s observations has been that “teaching often takes a back seat to research at leading American universities.” In an effort to address this, Institute staff looked at universities across the United States for research scientists who through teaching and mentoring “are striving to ignite the scientific spark in a new generation of students.” Twenty of the best, including Bartel, received $1 million each from HHMI to put innovative teaching ideas into action in undergraduate classrooms.

Bartel’s research has focused on genetic approaches in Arabidopsis (a small flowering plant widely used as a model organism in plant biology), in order to elucidate regulatory processes important in plant growth and development. Her HHMI project will offer a course to freshmen, led by graduate and postdoctoral students who conduct in-depth discussions of a recent research article from a local lab, after which the students visit the lab of the scientists who wrote the article. Sophomores begin research in lab modules and progress to working in faculty labs.

“The scientists whom we have selected [as HHMI professors] are true pioneers,” said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI director and Nobel laureate, “not only in their research, but in their creative approaches and dedication to teaching.”

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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