Hughes Institute gives students a leg up on science success

The chance to get a head start on learning how to meet the demands of a college-level science curriculum was appealing enough to persuade 38 entering Emory College freshmen to give up their last week of summer freedom and come to campus early.

Through the Hughes Summer Institute, a component of Emory's four-year grant from the Howard Hughes Institute, 38 African American and Latino American students received some invaluable guidance on how to succeed in science not only from faculty, but also from their sophomore predecessors.

William Bailey, assistant director of the Hughes Undergraduate Science Initiative, said the students participated in a number of "success in science" activities during the week. Those activities included: introductory sessions on biology, chemistry and calculus courses commonly taken during the freshman year; working on chemistry problems in small collaborative groups; and learning about the scientific applications of technologies such as Project LearnLink and the World Wide Web.

In one of two sessions on study skills, the students completed the Learning and Study Skills Inventory (LASSI), which Bailey said "tunes them in to their specific studying and learning styles. It can help them figure out whether they are auditory or visual learners, whether they should study early in the morning in a quiet place or later in the evening with some background noise. LASSI helps them think about these kinds of things before they actually start class."

Advice most frequently given to the freshman from last year's participants included the importance of prioritizing both one's academic and social life, not being intimidated by the competitive academic environment at Emory, and not becoming discouraged by initial setbacks and disappointments.

Bailey said such advice speaks directly to the main goal of the Hughes Summer Institute: to retain all the freshmen of color who express an initial interest in majoring in the sciences. "The original mandate of the Hughes grant is to encourage more people of color and women to enter the sciences," Bailey said. "The Hughes Summer Institute is the grant's student development component, which began at Emory last year. This is one of the ways that Emory is trying to meet not only the need to attract more minorities and women to the sciences, but also to retain them over the long term."

All minority entering freshmen who express an interest in majoring in the sciences on their admission application are invited to participate in the Hughes Summer Institute. For the purposes of the Hughes Summer Institute, Bailey defined the sciences as chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics. He said that 50 percent to 70 percent of incoming freshmen in recent years have expressed such an interest.

The appeal of the program, however, also extends to some students interested in health sciences careers. One of this year's participants is planning a career in physical therapy, Bailey said.

For Bailey, the vision of the program is clear. "We want Emory be in the vanguard and upper strata of universities that are able to place people of color in medical school, graduate school and research careers."

--Dan Treadaway

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