Henry Luce Foundation: Grants for STEM Higher Education

OVERVIEW: The Luce Foundation has several programs that qualify higher education institutions for funding. The majority of its higher ed funding focus is humanities-related, but it also has a dedicated program for attracting women into STEM fields in higher ed and gives some grants to support this area.

IP TAKE: The Luce Foundation’s humanities focus should not discourage STEM funders. If you are a woman scholar with a B.A. to a Ph.D., or if your university’s STEM program is working to attract more women to the field, this is an important funder to have on your radar. Catholic postsecondary institutions with “strong science programs” also have a leg up with this funder.

PROFILE: The Luce Foundation was started in 1936 by Time magazine co-founder Henry R. Luce, and “seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.” More information about Luce’s funding in the humanities can be viewed at this IP profile.

For those seeking STEM funding in higher ed, the Clare Booth Luce program is the place to go. According to the foundation, since the program began in 1989, “the Clare Boothe Luce Program (CBL) has become the single most significant source of private support for women in science, mathematics and engineering.” Mrs. Luce, Henry Luce’s widow, wanted “to encourage women to enter, study, graduate, and teach” in science, mathematics and engineering.” The program works towards three classes of recipients:

  • Undergraduate students, through general scholarships (for the final two years of study) or support for specific research projects that involve working with faculty members with an eye towards “graduate study.”
  • Graduate students, through fellowships that “benefit recipients at the beginning of their graduate studies, when funds for independent research are rarely available.”
  • Higher ed professorships that provide “recognition and prestige” to raise an educator’s profile in the field as well as professional development funding that gives “flexibility and support rarely available to new faculty members.”

First in line to receive funding for the CBL scholarships are 13 pre-selected universities, with additional institutions sometimes receiving invitations to apply. All others should review the CBL application page for information about the inquiry and application process and deadlines. In terms of applying for funding, keep in mind that grants are awarded to educational institutions, not directly to individuals. Faculty awardees must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, while students need to be U.S. citizens to be eligible. The social sciences and medical fields are not eligible for funding, but the foundation does prefer “Catholic Institutions with strong science programs,” as well as support for “the physical science and engineering fields in which women are the most underrepresented, e.g., physics, computer science, mathematics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, etc.”

Separately, some recent grants from Luce’s Higher Education program support leadership programs for women in the STEM fields. To get the ball rolling on a Higher Ed application, the foundation notes that “prospective grantees often begin the process with an email or phone call to the director of the appropriate program.” The program director may then request a letter of inquiry, which can be submitted year-round and will be reviewed to determine whether you will be invited to submit a full proposal.

Awards under $50,000 are decided by the foundation’s president after review and recommendation by the program director and a “panel of outside experts. Grants above that amount are recommended by the program director to the president and the Board, the latter being responsible for making the final decision.

Beyond direct support for education and training programs, the foundation also has an “Asian Studies and the Environment” initiative that “aspires to encourage innovative approaches to Asian studies teaching and research at the undergraduate level through the lens of the environment and sustainable development.” Applications for this program are by invitation only. In recent years, the foundation has awarded a handful of grants, mostly at the $50,000 level, though some have been significantly higher.

The foundation previously had “a special Environment Initiative [that] distributed $30 million in grants for environment-oriented projects at academic institutions and NGOs,” but this program ended in 2007.

The bottom line: the Luce foundation’s main priorities lie in the arts, humanities, and international affairs— particularly in terms of relations between the United States and Asia, but there are still many possibilities for STEM funding—especially if your focus is on increasing the number of women in the field or connecting your project to Asian studies. 

PEOPLE: 

  • Carlotta M. Arthur, Program Director, Clare Boothe Luce Program
  • Sean Buffington, Vice President

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