About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 10, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 29
KSAS biologist named 'million dollar' HHMI Prof

Corces designs program to inspire students from disadvantaged backgrounds

By Lisa DeNike

Victor Corces, a professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Biology Department, has been named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor.

Corces is one of 20 research scientists at 18 universities across the country to be selected for this honor, which includes a $1 million grant to fund unique approaches to inspire undergraduate students in the sciences.

"The scientists whom we have selected are true pioneers, not only in their research but also in their creative approaches and dedication to teaching," said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. "We are hopeful that their educational experiments will energize undergraduate science education throughout the nation."

As an HHMI Professor, Corces will spearhead a program called Research Internship and Science Education, or RISE, which aims to increase the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds studying biology. Under the auspices of the program, promising students from Baltimore City public schools will work in Corces' lab, full time in the summer and part time during the school year. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will supervise the students, who will develop projects directly related to Corces' research.

RISE students, he said, will use classical genetics to determine the precise role of the dTopors protein, which helps organize the folding pattern of chromatin, the nucleic acids and proteins in a cell's nucleus that form chromosomes during cell division. The way that fruit-fly chromatin divides may subdivide the genome into discrete sections or domains. One of these domains might direct a stem cell to turn on the appropriate set of genes to become, say, a muscle cell. As students identify other chromatin structure genes, they will use the tools and techniques of molecular biology and biochemistry to characterize them, Corces said.

"These students' projects would be things I would be doing in my lab anyway,” he said. "Now I can put all the students in one space, working together, and their interactions can reinforce each other.”

He also plans to have the high school students take a lecture course designed specifically for them.

"There are many intellectually gifted students out there, but they lack the kind of mentoring and role models that could really make a difference,” Corces said. "In addition, they don't always know what careers are available in the sciences. Students need the inspiration of tangible career goals to pursue biomedical research when they reach college.”

Corces said he hopes that RISE will eventually motivate five high school seniors each year to apply for Johns Hopkins' Baltimore Scholars Program, through which the university provides full-tuition scholarships to Baltimore City public school graduates who gain admission.

"We need to increase the pipeline of underprivileged students in research,” Corces said. "Some students' financial or social situations may make this seem like an impossible goal. I'm trying to reach those students and show them what is possible.”

The HHMI "million dollar professor” program last awarded grants in 2002, when the institute also awarded $20 million to 20 professors committed to bringing the excitement of scientific discovery to the undergraduate classroom. In addition to the 20 professors added to the program this year, HHMI will give smaller renewal grants to eight of the original 20 professors to help them find ways to sustain the parts of their programs that work best.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |