UC Davis professor Mark Goldman has been named the recipient of $1 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute teaching award that he will use to create a new major and a new undergraduate laboratory class.
An associate professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior, Goldman was one of 15 researchers chosen from among 173 applicants by a panel of scientists and educators in the institute’s 2014 HHMI Professors Competition.
“I saw a divide between what’s actually occurring in many of the most exciting areas of biology and how we are teaching our students,” Goldman said in a news release. “One of the biggest gaps is in mathematical and computer modeling, whether that is bioinformatics, ecological modeling related to climate change, or understanding the intricate circuitry of the brain.”
Goldman plans to offer an undergraduate lab course that teaches the full scientific research process, from formulating an experiment to analyzing data.
“Every student should have a true, hands-on working sense of what the scientific process is and you can’t get that in the classroom,” he said.
Goldman also plans to develop a cross-college quantitative biology major — the first in the UC system and among the first in the country — for students seeking “a more rigorous undergraduate experience.”
His goal: teach students to use mathematical and computer modeling in the study of complex biological systems. He hopes to eventually help create a curriculum for freshmen that builds on their new skills with each successive year until graduation.
“A current problem in biology is that students learn some math their freshman year, but it is rarely emphasized later in the curriculum,” he said. “And, when math does appear in advanced courses, students realize too late how relevant it is to biology and that they should have taken more.”
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has presented award to 40 professors since 2002. Of this year’s 15 recipients, four came from the UC system. The others are molecular biology professor Susan Golden of UC San Diego and molecular biology professor Tracy Johnson and electrical engineering professor Aydogan Ozcan, both of UCLA.
“Exceptional teachers have a lasting impact on students,” said the institute’s president, Robert Tjian, in a news release. “These scientists are at the top of their respective fields and they bring the same creativity and rigor to science education that they bring to their research.”
UCD College of Biological Sciences Dean James Hildreth called the institute award “extremely exciting news for the college and the entire Davis campus.”
“Professor Goldman and his colleagues will be developing an innovative curriculum in quantitative biology—a discipline that will contribute significantly to finding solutions for the grand challenges facing humankind,” Hildreth said. “Such a program will ensure that our faculty and students remain on the cutting edge of biology.”