Harvard and 15 other New England colleges and universities are submitting a joint proposal for a grant to bolster undergraduate education in science, officials said yesterday.
Those 16 schools will compete as a group against seven other such consortiums to try to capture some part of an $8 million grant sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust, an educational foundation.
Seventy-five schools that traditionally produce the most scientists were eligible to form clusters and vie for the $8 million fund, called the Pew Science Program in Undergraduate Education, said Joan Girgus, director of the program. Schools within each cluster will use the funds to invigorate their science curriculums, she said.
"We began to be worried about the fact that there is such a strong decline in interest among undergraduates nationally in studying science," Girgus said, predicting that in 20 years there will be a large gap between the supply of and the demand for scientists.
The Pew grant, which is being offered this year for the first time, is an effort to close this widening gap.
Improving Harvard's science curriculum has also become a recently voiced concern of Dean for Undergraduate Education David Pilbeam. The fact that a large number of undergraduates who enter Harvard planning to concentrate in the sciences end up switching their majors has heightened this concern, he said.
"There's some drop-off [in the number of science concentrators] because we don't always do as good a job as we could," Pilbeam said. "The aim is to attract more people and hold more people in the sciences."
Although some consortiums will not receive any funding from the foundation, Pew will disperse the money to more than one group of schools, Girgus said.
But Girgus said she hopes the schools that do receive funding will set up programs that can serve as models to universities across the country.
Although Dean of the Division of Applied Sciences Paul C. Martin '52 declined to give the exact amount of funding Harvard's group, called the New England Consortium for Undergraduate Science Education (NECUSE), is requesting, he said it is applying for several million dollars.
Martin said the 16 schools would use the money for a variety of programs, including exploring different uses for computer software in education. Girgus said other possible uses include providing more opportunities for student-faculty research.
"Many aspects of undergraduate science education could do better," Martin said.
Unlike most grant programs, the Pew requires that the 75 eligible institutionsform clusters, Girgus said. The collaborativemethod is designed to bring schools with differentstrengths together, she said.
"We think it's an interesting way to work, andwe can benefit from certain kinds of things thatcan be done more effectively by collaborating,"Martin said.
The 16-member (NECUSE) is the largest clusterapplying for the three-year grant. It consists ofAmherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Brown, Colby, Dartmouth,Harvard, Holy Cross, Middlebury, Mt. Holyoke,Smith, Trinity, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Williams andYale