The Sciences at Clark

Complementary Curricular Networks (CCNs) in Biology

In 2004 Clark University received $300,000 from the Science and Engineering Grant Program of the W.M. Keck Foundation to support a comprehensive and dynamic restructuring of Clark's undergraduate biology curriculum.

The goal of this project was to transition the undergraduate biology curriculum from a more traditional curriculum to an inquiry-based model that bolsters student preparation for upper division courses and successful professional careers. The project titled, "Complementary Curricular Networks: Tools to Enhance Undergraduate Biology Education" allowed for curriculum development, equipment purchases, and equipment operation. The CCNs were designed to offer undergraduates new and varied pathways to scientific learning as well as penultimate research opportunities. Each year, science students in Biology were introduced to increasingly autonomous responsibility for their ideas. In the first year for instance, students use already collected data sets to learn about hypothesis testing, data analysis and interpretation of results. As they progress through the major, they become increasingly involved with developing their own hypotheses to test and take on increasing roles in analyzing data. Students can take what they learn in one Complementary Curricular Network and apply those skill sets to other areas, both within the sciences and elsewhere. By incorporating research experiences within the curriculum, more students have the opportunity to participate in rigorous research projects as undergraduates and can take on a sophisticated level of involvement by their senior year.

"We are extremely excited about the opportunity this award provides to the Department," says Biology Department Chair and project director Susan A. Foster. "It will enable us to incorporate novel elements into our curriculum that will provide common themes across courses, and that will help students integrate the diversity of approaches that comprise modern biology. The award also provides state-of-the-art equipment, enabling us to further enhance what we feel are already outstanding research opportunities for our undergraduate students."

Project co-directors at Clark include Professor Todd Livdahl (also project coordinator), Associate Professor Deborah Robertson, and Associate Professor David Hibbett.

William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company, established the W.M. Keck Foundation in 1954 in Los Angeles. It is one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations, with assets of more than $1 billion. The Foundation established the Science and Engineering Program with the objective to support innovative undergraduate instruction in these fields as well as leading university research programs and interdisciplinary projects.