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Northwestern University Ventures in Biology Education

Northwestern University Ventures in Biology Education (nuViBe) aims to reshape Northwestern undergraduate bioscience education and prepare students to pursue cutting-edge research, advanced degrees, and professional careers in biological and biomedical sciences. To achieve this goal, Northwestern University faculty and leadership are transforming the introductory biology series and have created the BioEXCEL and NU Bioscientist programs.

Each program takes a targeted approach to support improvements in bioscience education. The underlying aim for each program is to motivate students and give them a supportive and innovative approach to learning by providing them with hands-on experience in real world research projects in the laboratories at Northwestern University. The BioExcel program is a residential, summer bridge program for incoming freshmen who are intended Biology or Chemistry majors. The NU Bioscientist program engages 30 incoming students in a unique freshman curriculum and immersion in a biological research experience very early after entering Northwestern.

Northwestern has redesigned the introductory biology series, formerly BIOLSCI 210-1, 210-2 and 210-3, to transform how students approach biology. The new lecture and laboratory classes actively engage students in the process of scientific discovery. Instead of concentrating on the large amount of information that is usually covered in a traditional introductory biology curriculum, the new courses focus on deep understanding of basic concepts and analytical reasoning, and integrate across disciplines. Students are engaged in their own learning through problem solving activities, case studies, and inquiry-based laboratories. The course content incorporates connections to quantitative concepts and methods. Students study biological examples that draw on topics from mathematics, statistics, physical sciences, and engineering.

The NU Bioscientist program prepares 30 freshmen for independent research in the biological and biomedical sciences. The program includes two freshmen seminars. The first course, “Biological Thought and Action,” challenges students to understand the broader significance of scientific discovery and research in the context of medicine, society and economies. The other course, on “Science Research Preparation,” guides students through the process of identifying laboratories and writing research proposals. PhD students and postdoctoral fellows provide mentorship for participants in their chosen research laboratory and offer guidance as students develop summer research projects and write research proposals.

Although the NU Bioscientist program begins during freshman year, participants are encouraged to continue their research as upperclassmen and eventually join the ranks of NU Bioscientist mentors who work with students at the K-12 and early undergraduate levels. Out of 30 freshmen in the 2013-2014 cohort, 28 were able to secure lab placement, complete necessary coursework, and successfully earn their summer research grants.

The nuVibe initiative was initially funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate and Precollege Science Education Program. At the conclusion of that funding, nuVibe programs, BioEXCEL and NU Bioscientist are now funded by Northwestern University.