The University of New Orleans has been awarded a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that it plans to use to hire two new instructors and develop programs to help keep students more engaged in math and sciences.
UNO was among 37 schools nationwide — and the only one in the state — to receive a grant out of 203 universities that were invited to apply.
In 2015, UNO plans to begin offering weeklong math and science “boot camps” for up to 150 incoming freshmen interested in taking refresher courses before the fall semester begins, said professor Wendy Schluchter, chairwoman of UNO’s biological studies department and the grant’s lead investigator.
The idea is to help incoming students get acclimated to college expectations, fine-tune critical thinking skills and start considering themselves as budding scientists. The math and science curriculum also will more heavily emphasize problem-solving exercises rather than lectures.
“We want to get students more actively engaged in lectures and labs and making decisions about how would a scientist approach this, rather than just a cookbook lab,” Schluchter said.
It’s all part of a larger effort to keep students from dropping out or changing majors out of areas focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, she said.
A 2012 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology found that fewer than 40 percent of students who enroll in college to earn a degree in such a field end up doing so.
“Our goal is to try to keep students engaged and make them sort of self-recognized as a scientist early on,” Schluchter said. “That’s our goal: to keep them motivated. Yes, it’s hard work, but we’re going to help you.”
In a year in which the cash-strapped school has laid off dozens of employees in an effort to close a multimillion-dollar deficit, Schluchter said the grant money will give UNO a chance to bolster its ranks with the two new hires.
“This is a way we can be able to hire somebody to help us do these sorts of things — being able to have a little bit more manpower to help us do some of these changes, support our faculty who want to do these things and provide the resources that they need to make it happen,” she said.
Schluchter said one of the two hires will be a biologist and the other a mathematician.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.