Doris Duke Charitable Foundation: Grants for STEM Higher Education


OVERVIEW: Colleges and universities consistently receive a share of grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF), which supports higher ed STEM through its environmental and medical research programs. The foundation has some open competitive grants, invites LOIs, and accepts applications from both individuals and organizations.

IP TAKE: True, the Duke Foundation doesn’t have a STEM-specific funding stream, but higher ed institutions have earned big awards given through its other programs. Eligibility and openness vary by program.

PROFILE: The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has as its mission “to improve the quality of people's lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke's properties.”

STEM in higher education has found a friend in Duke in part through its Environmental program, which has a stated mission "to enable communities to protect and manage wildlife habitat and create efficient built environments." To that end, the program has four sub-strategies: Land Conservation, Wildlife & Energy Development, Strengthening the Conservation Field, and Environmental Stewardship in the Tri-State Area. Awards have been distributed to postsecondary institutions nationwide and ranged from tens of thousands into the millions of dollars, supporting efforts such as scholars programs, conferences, urban agriculture, energy efficiency, and studies related to the effects of climate change.

During her lifetime, Doris Duke was a big medical research supporter, so it is no surprise that Medical Research is another main program for higher ed STEM funding. With a focus on "prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease by strengthening and supporting clinical research," this program has supported several rounds of clinical mentorships and research awards at various colleges and universities, as well as smaller amounts of funding for initiatives such as a "summer program for underrepresented students."

Medical Research initiatives include:

  • An International Clinical Research Fellowship “for U.S.-based medical students to take a year out from school to conduct mentored clinical research in developing countries”
  • A Clinical Research Mentorship in which “previously funded Doris Duke investigators” give one-year mentorships for current medical students
  • A Fund to Retain Clinical Scientists, “awarded to U.S. medical schools and affiliated research hospitals” (not directly to individuals) and meant “to retain early-career physician-scientists in research” by giving them additional support as they are “working on clinical research projects and facing extraprofessional demands of caregiving”
  • A Clinical Scientist Development Award that gives “grants to junior physician scientists to facilitate their transition to independent clinical research careers”
  • The currently inactive Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award, which recognizes “outstanding mid-career physician-scientists who are applying the latest scientific advances to the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of disease, and enables them to support and mentor the next generation of physician-scientists conducting clinical research.”

Merging the postsecondary and K-12 fronts, there is also a Clinical Research Experiences for High School Students program, which does just what it says. This initiative runs exclusively through an existing set of eight medical institutions, including five that are university-affiliated.

As is increasingly the norm among larger grantmakers, the Duke Foundation hosts a grants database of past awards. Duke’s, however, is unique in that it goes back all the way to 1997, so fundraisers can get a broader picture of trends in the foundation’s funding over the years. Duke also features a Grantee Spotlight blog that can give further insight into its priorities, as well as an Open Competitions & Funding Opportunities page.

Getting your foot in the door might be a little tricky, though. Depending on the program or initiative, funding may be available via "foundation-initiated invitations to apply, re-granting competitions that are administered by service organizations and competitions that are run using request-for-proposal processes." The foundation does welcome letters of inquiry, but first review Duke's program-specific grantmaking strategy to determine if your project is eligible.


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