Iowa State University will receive a $1.2 million grant over five years through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the university announced Wednesday.

The money will be used for the university's Engaged to Excel program, designed to help make science curricula for first- and second-year students more relevant and keep students engaged in their major. Through the program, which was started in 2010 with a $1.6 million Howard Hughes grant, ISU students work on extended research projects with science lab courses and explore ideas generated within the topic of a course, which may include designing their own experiments.

Iowa State was one of 37 U.S. research universities awarded the funds on May 29.

Officials at the university say that nationally about 60 percent of all students leave a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) major during college, and that figure is about 50 percent at Iowa State.