Sara B. Cobb, Lilly Endowment

TITLE: Vice President, Education

FUNDING AREAS: Elementary, secondary, and higher education in Indiana

CONTACT: cobbs@lei.org, 317-916-7309

IP TAKE: Fixing to get money for education in the Indiana area? Cobb is someone with whom you would greatly benefit to become acquainted.

PROFILE: Sara Cobb joined the Lilly Endowment as a program director for higher education in 1997 and promoted to vice president for the entire education division in 1999.

To condense the Lilly Endowdment's philanthropic angle into a single sentence: It wants to maximize the number of residents in the state of Indiana who have at least a bachelor's degree. Raising educational attainment remains the underlying goal which Cobb's program pursues in several ways: funding scholarships to low-income or minority students who would otherwise be less likely to continue their education, "intellectual development" programs that bring more people to the area who are already continuing it, and rehabbing and expanding existing programs to better serve students.

Lilly's philanthropic activity started off strong at the turn of the century, but petered off rapidly due to "a painful slide in the 2000s that began after a court stripped the company of patent protection for its blockbuster Prozac," according to the Indiana Economic Digest. But the endowment’s shares have "returned 40%, a huge turnaround," since 2009.

Cobb's grant making mirrors this dip quite closely. Remaining low-key for much of the 2000's, seemingly out of nowhere she awarded over $40 million to Indiana University in 2012. In January of that year, she gave $6.6 million to the Indiana University Public Policy Institute, a center at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs on their Purdue Campus in Indianapolis. IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz called the work at this Institute "especially beneficial to our urban campus and our central Indiana neighbors."

Another even larger development grant from Cobb's office crashed into Indiana University's Bloomington campus, Kelly Business School, earlier that same month. Cobb granted $33 million for a brand new building and a smattering of technological updates "would help build the intellectual capital in our state, which we believe is so vital to the future prosperity of Indiana."

The 2012 higher education philanthropy headline-grabbing campaign at Lilly didn't restrict itself to university development, however. Cobb bestowed nearly $5 million to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to support "two additional rounds of fellowships that recruit and prepare math and science teachers for high-need rural and urban Indiana schools and that encourage change in the way Indiana teachers are prepared." Again, if you follow the pattern emerging here, all of these efforts come back to Cobb's very student-centered, inclusion-oriented grant making.

In terms of supporting education before the college-stage, Cobb's grantees cover the bases in terms of getting students there. Again, the commonality is a focus on the student him and herself. Recent grants include $25,000 to College Mentors for Kids, $1 million to Day Nursery Association of Indianapolis, and $600,000 to Indiana INTERNnet.

You might also benefit by reading up on Cobb's 2004 donation of $1 million to Anderson, an area religious university, for more insight into her "Initiative to Recruit and Retain Intellectual Capital in Indiana Institutions of Higher Education."

In terms of Cobb's own education, Indiana was also her state of mind.  She received a bachelor's degree in political science from Purdue University in 1980 and her JD a decade later from Indiana University.

Apart from the occasional ambiguous one-liners in grant-making press releases, Cobb does not betray much about her personal dispositions to the media. She does, however, demonstrate grantmaking that is in lockstep with the endowment's focus on Indiana based institutions, as indicated above.