Keck Foundation awards $250,000 grant to Dominican

Dominican University of California has received a $250,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to purchase sophisticated scientific equipment that will significantly advance faculty research and support growth of the University’s undergraduate research program.

The grant was awarded as part of the Foundation’s Undergraduate Education Program, which invests in colleges and universities that have a history of achievement and effective management.

 “It is a tremendous honor to receive a grant from the W.M.  Keck Foundation,” said Dominican University of California President Joseph R. Fink. “The Foundation promotes inventive approaches to instruction and effective involvement of students in research at some of the country’s top colleges and universities. This award is a tremendous affirmation of the strength of Dominican’s faculty, research and student engagement.”

The Foundation’s grant criteria focus on projects that encourage active learning and teamwork, encourage student participation in research, have strong institutional support, and include a strong component for ongoing project evaluation.

The grant will fund the purchase of a laser confocal microscope that will enable Dominican’s faculty researchers to broaden the scope and depth of current research while enhancing the content of biology, chemistry, and environmental sciences courses. Specific aims of the project are to integrate cutting-edge microscopy methods across all science programs and to establish strong partnerships with the Bay Area’s biomedical community.

The confocal microscope will be central to the creation of two new undergraduate courses: Cell Imaging Technology and Stem Cell Technology. The stem cell course currently is a graduate-level course offered by Dominican in the Master of Science in Biological Science program, launched in 2008 in association with the Buck Institute for Age Research and BioMarin Pharmaceutical.

For Dominican, the Keck Foundation grant is a continuation of the growth enjoyed by the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics in recent years. Not only has the number of science students increased dramatically from 28 in 2000 to 200 in 2011, but also the focus of the curriculum has changed to incorporate undergraduate research throughout the curriculum.

The department’s commitment to active learning through enhanced research activities has resulted in a highly competitive and skilled student body prepared to continue their studies in graduate, health professional school or industry. Since 2005, about 70% of Dominican’s graduating biology majors have entered graduate (MS or Ph.D) or professional school. Furthermore, students have conducted faculty directed research resulting in more than 120 conference presentations.

“The confocal microscope will foster unique learning experiences in many areas of science while strengthening Dominican’s capacity for collaborative research with the Bay Area’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries,” said Dr. Sibdas Ghosh, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “These Bay Area partnerships will create exceptional internship and employment opportunities to further enrich students’ learning experience.”

Among the faculty research projects that will benefit from the addition of a confocal microscope at Dominican are Dr. Ghosh and Dr. Sheila Johnson-Brousseau’s research focused on P. ramorum, the pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death; Dr. Maggie Louie’s research focused on how cadmium promotes the growth of breast cancer cells;  Dr. Roland Cooper’s research focused on drug resistance in P. falciparum, the lethal human malaria parasite; and Dr. Warren Hoeffler’s research focused on tissue culturing and wound healing.

Dominican faculty already are collaborating on projects with faculty from throughout the United States, including UC Davis, the University of San Diego, Notre Dame University, Georgetown University, Portland State University, the Buck Institute for Age Research, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and UC San Francisco.

Dr. Ghosh anticipates that the Keck Foundation grant will encourage researchers from other institutions to interact with Dominican more frequently.

“Larger universities enjoy wide access to collaborative research often due to their greater visibility,” Dr. Ghosh noted. “Conversely, smaller institutions like Dominican have trouble connecting with other researchers simply because of the lack of attention they receive on the national scale.”

“Our smaller size does offer some advantages over larger universities,” he added. “Our faculty members are in closer proximity and communication with each other, resulting in frequent discussion and many new ideas and projects.”