Columbia College’s Frontiers of Science program received a $200,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation this semester, which will be used to support the research of postdoctoral science fellows who teach the course.
The foundation, which was established in 1952 under a living trust of the American industrialist Arthur Vining Davis, offers financial assistance for “educational, cultural, scientific, and religious” institutions. The foundation’s Web site states that “support generally is reserved for schools of broadly acknowledged academic excellence and a solid record of financial strength.”
According to the Foundation, one of the main draws of the Frontiers of Science program was that it offers science fellows the opportunity to gain teaching experience while continuing their research—a unique opportunity that is not afforded to fellows at other universities.
Shortly after the Frontiers of Science program was launched in 2004, Columbia’s Research Development office sent a letter to the foundation requesting funds to support the program’s science fellows. A site visit was then arranged, and representatives from the foundation met with various faculty members, administrators, and fellows. The $200,000 awarded is the largest grant available for a private institution.
“University teaching, particularly science teaching, is not as good as one might hope,” said David Helfand, professor and chair of the astronomy department, who was involved in communications with the foundation. “By taking these young scientists who are researchers but are who are also interesting in teaching, ... we can help train a generation of scholars to go to other universities and become faculty members there with a much deeper experience in teaching than the normal career path would have.”
Another feature of the Frontiers of Science program is its interdisciplinary nature fostered by the various instructors.
“Frontiers of Science is a really good experience in learning how to teach, because there’s a lot of interaction,” said Darcy Kelley, a biology professor who helped coordinate the grant. “It’s highly mentored. ... It’s one of the few collaborative teaching experiences that you can have.”
Specifically, the money awarded to the program will fund a portion of the salaries of fellows who are interested in both teaching and research. Regardless of whether these fellows continue to work at Columbia, professors said they expect the Frontiers of Science program and the teaching opportunities will be invaluable to all.
“We are hopeful that what we do in Frontiers of Science will have impact beyond Columbia,” Helfand said. “We’re not just teaching our students.”