Sarah Hertzog, John Templeton Foundation

TITLE: Director, Character Virtue Development Initiative

CONTACT: shertzog@templeton.org, 610-941-2828

FUNDING AREAS: Character development, psychology research, education research and family planning

INSIDE TAKE: Psych researcher turned funder seeks insights into how to educate good people—and has some seriously deep pockets.

PROFILE: Sarah Hertzog manages the grantmaking process for the John Templeton Foundation's Character Development initiative. Hertzog has a bachelor's degree in child development from Tufts University and received her PhD from Cornell's Developmental Psychology program. She defended her dissertation in 2010 and did some postdoctoral work through a fellowship at Rutgers University Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research. Growing up, in Yardley, Pennsylvania, she enjoyed swimming, and then coaching swimming to younger kids (which she also did during her time at Cornell).

What kind of "character" does Hertzog aim to develop at Templeton? According to an overview of Templeton's core funding areas, virtues of character "emphasized by Sir John in the Foundation's charter include awe, creativity, curiosity, diligence, entrepreneurialism, forgiveness, future-mindedness, generosity, gratitude, honesty, humility, joy, love, purpose, reliability... thrift... [and] wisdom." Templeton has promoted these aspects of the human psyche through interdisciplinary academic and policy research. In the past, the foundation has also given money for film projects, but not under Hertzog's direction as of yet.

A 2008 paper Hertzog coauthored with Massachusetts General Hospital's department of psychiatry discusses a series of interviews with male children and parents about adult-themed content in video games. Her dissertation at Cornell University investigates the health benefits of functional marriages. Perhaps these investigations offer some insight into Hertzog's—and the foundation's attempt to develop character.

Two projects that have gotten money in Hertzog's area since she took the gig with Templeton in 2010:

  • Richard Lerner, a chair at Tufts University's applied developmental science department received $2.2 million to perform a three-year assessment of student outcomes at the Williamson School. Williamson is a trade-oriented secondary school for religiously active, low-income males in Media, Pennsylvania, which places a heavy emphasis on ethics and morality. Lerner's study will use qualitative and quantitative metrics to look at both current enrollees and Williamson’s alumni of five and 50 years in order to assess the impact of the school's educational model.
  • Three psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania accepted a $1.1 million grant from Templeton through their board of trustees to "identify and understand learnable, teachable strategies that facilitate self-control." Over the next few years, these researchers plan to publish a series of five articles in academic journals on this topic and to conclude with a theoretical review of their work. They will then run a publicity campaign to clue in the education policy powers-that-be on the importance of teaching young people how to keep their impulses in check.

These grants read like an almost uninterrupted continuation of Hertzog's own research, and seem characterized by a relentless quest to find and empirically demonstrate the benefits of a puritanical lifestyle.