W.M. Keck Foundation: Grants for STEM Education and Science Research

OVERVIEW: The foundation has two programs that are research-related: Science and Engineering, and Medical Research. Each program gives out only a dozen or so grants each year.  The average grant size is $1 million, but they can get as high as $5 million. Keck is interested in high-risk, high-reward research.

IP TAKE:  Keck prioritizes projects with diverse ideas and researcher backgrounds that may not be the obvious choice for support. Funding is highly competitive, but this is an accessible funder. The foundation favors projects that cross multiple research disciplines. This includes openness to a diverse group of scientists and smaller institutions that might be ignored by larger funders.

PROFILE: Headquartered in Los Angeles, the W.M. Keck Foundation, was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder of Superior Oil. Keck seeks to lay “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.” The foundation focuses on science and engineering research, medical research, and undergraduate education.

Keck’s Undergraduate Education program funds many STEM projects aimed at making science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields more engaging for students. Keck limits these 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. A separate program area focuses exclusively on Southern California projects.

Past funding includes 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.

Keck also funds 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 funds 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 seeking 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.

The Keck Foundation's grants are competitive, but they are worth the effort for those with a project that aligns with the foundation’s priorities. “Research universities, medical colleges and major private independent scientific and medical research institutes” are all eligible. Note that policy research is not supported, nor are fellowships, scholarships, or “clinical or translational research, treatment trials or research for the sole purpose of drug development.”

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 award, classified by year and program area. Common grants in the Medical Research area have gone to cellular and genetic research related to cancer, intellectual disabilities, and other illnesses.

The foundation gives a small number of grants to each program every year, but according to its own numbers, research grants generally range from $500,000 to $5 million and are usually $2 million or less. Keck recommends grantseekers contact staff to set up initial consultation between January 1 and February 15, or between July 1 to August 15, depending on the program. Applications submitted by May 1 are reviewed for the December grant cycle and those sent in by November 1 are considered for the June cycle.


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