W.M. Keck Foundation: Grants for STEM Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The W.M. Keck Foundation, based in Southern California, funds medical, engineering, and scientific research, as well as projects focused on undergraduate education, including STEM. Undergraduate education grants go to institutions of higher education in a delineated multi-state area and at the national level.

IP TAKE: If you want to expand research opportunities and improve STEM education for undergraduates, and especially if you're based in the western United States, get to know the Keck Foundation.

PROFILE: The W.M. Keck Foundation, headquartered in Los Angeles, was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder of Superior Oil. Its grantmaking activities emphasize science and engineering research, medical research, and undergraduate education. Through this work, Keck sees itself as “laying the groundwork for breakthrough discoveries and new technologies that will save lives, provide innovative solutions to complex problems and add immeasurably to our understanding of life on Earth and our place in the universe.”

Keck’s undergraduate education program funds many STEM projects aimed at making science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields more engaging for students. A fourth program area focuses exclusively on Southern California projects.

Keck limits its undergraduate education grants to institutions of higher education located in a multi-state area that covers the parts of the midwest, several southern states, and all of the western and southwestern United States, as well as Alaska and Hawaii. In addition, the foundation funds national organizations that address undergraduate education needs at the national level.

Past funding has been directed to initiatives as varied as improving access, retention, and degree completion for students majoring in STEM disciplines; integrating new technologies into STEM education; expanding opportunities for undergraduate students to conduct scientific research; fostering interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty; developing and integrating new teaching methodologies; and striving to improve students’ employment opportunities post-graduation.

As IP has reported, the Keck Foundation has also shown a willingness to invest in training STEM teachers at the K-12 level.

Keck's funding has also been directed at a number of initiatives that are either technology-focused or that relied on a technology component. Some of these projects have included integrating new technologies into undergraduate STEM education, use of technology in energy and medical research, and several instances of funding to purchase new laboratory technologies. For instance, the foundation has funded a microscopy lab at the University of San Francisco.

Indeed, one thing that sets Keck apart from many foundations is its support for technology buys. In contrast to funders looking mainly to support the development of next-generation learning tools, Keck grants often support tech purchases, which can be a lifesaver for institutions facing technology spending cuts.

According to the foundation, grants for the undergraduate education program have historically ranged from $200,000 to $1 million but are usually under $500,000. Keck especially encourages applications from private colleges and universities.

While there does not appear to be a searchable database of past awards, the foundation does provide a list by year of grant abstracts that give an overview of each specific award.

The Keck Foundation awards grants twice annually: in June and December. Grantseekers should contact the foundation in advance of submitting an application, and the foundation encourages submission of grant ideas in the form of a one-page concept paper. Keck follows a two-phase application process, in which grantseekers submit a Phase One application, which undergoes foundation review. Approved applicants are then invited to submit a Phase Two full proposal. Application dates and deadlines are available on the foundation's website.


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