Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: Grants for Science Education

OVERVIEW: Founded in 1934 by General Motors exec Alfred Sloan, the Sloan Foundation has grown into one of the largest private foundations in the United States. The STEM fields drive the majority of Sloan's higher education grantmaking, but fellowships, research into making STEM education effective (including what draws and retains students), and support for people of color are also important priorities.

IP TAKE: If any of the above interests are in line with your own, this is a funder you should definitely get to know. Funding streams are almost always restricted in some way (school, subject area, or target group), but the foundation is open to uninvited LOIs in a number of its various subprograms. Dig deep into their programs and there are many possibilities available.

PROFILE: Started in 1934 by Alfred P. Sloan, former CEO and President of General Motors, the Sloan Foundation was endowed mostly by the Sloan family, building up to its current trust of around $2 billion.

Sloan has a pretty unique combination of interests and “makes grants to support original research and broad-based education related to science, technology, and economic performance; and to improve the quality of American life.”

In terms of education, many grants support minority students pursuing advanced degrees in STEM fields. Sloan fellowships often support underrepresented groups that have traditionally earned fewer advanced STEM degrees. These groups include women, Native Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics.

Sloan’s STEM Higher Education program seeks to “promote access to the scientific enterprise, provide information about scientific and technical careers, and encourage innovation to the structure of scientific training.” Sloan supports are a financial lifeline for students earning Ph.D. or Master's degrees in STEM fields. STEM Higher Education is broken down into two programs Education and Professional Advancement for Underrepresented Groups and The Science of Learning STEM.

Education and Professional Advancement for Underrepresented Groups offers two fellowships, both of which are administered by National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. The first is the Sloan Minority Ph.D. Program, which partners with colleges and universities to provide fellowships to underrepresented populations.

The second is the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership, supporting Native American and Native Alaskan graduate education. There are also grants available for organizations working in closely aligned areas, such as support for American Indian students at tribal colleges. Note that no funding from this program goes to pre-collegiate education.

The second science education program, The Science of Learning STEM is all about improving educational methods, both quality of instruction and drawing and retaining students to science and tech fields. In recent years, the foundation has earmarked grant dollars to support research into how students (mostly college, but to a lesser extent secondary) learn STEM subjects. Sloan also uses the Science of Learning STEM program to expand interest in science and math among underrepresented groups.

While much of this funding goes to universities for research on what works and what doesn’t, it’s not limited to scholarly work. Sloan also offers funding for higher education through a number of additional channels. One of these is the Scholarly Communication sub-focus of its Digital Information Technology program. Through SC, Sloan offers grants “related to how information technology may change the dissemination and evaluation of scholarship” in higher academia.

Another way Sloan supports higher ed is through its Research Fellowships. This program awards nearly $6 million to over 125 promising young scholars per year in the areas of physics, chemistry, mathematics, neuroscience, computer science, economics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, and ocean sciences. As per the foundation, the fellowships are “designed to identify those who show the most outstanding promise of making fundamental contributions to new knowledge,” and fellows “are free to pursue whatever lines of inquiry are of the most compelling interest to them.”

Then there is Sloan’s Energy & Environment program. Broadly speaking, this program’s focus is “to advance understanding about the economic, environmental, security, and policy tradeoffs associated with the increased deployment of low-and no-carbon resources and technologies...and identify the resulting impacts on the quality of American life.” Within that scope, four of Sloan’s main “core outcome areas” either directly align with or have the potential to overlap with higher ed: fostering “Novel Research and Knowledge,” preparing the “Next Generation of Scholars and Practitioners,” the construction of “Multidisciplinary Networks and Communities,” and to “Educate Stakeholders and Disseminate Information for Decision-Making.”

Aside from Sloan’s formal science education work, they also place a big emphasis on educating the public about science and economics, backing quite a bit of media, such as books, radio, TV and new media. To that end, Sloan supports a number of public radio shows, such as Radiolab, Planet Money, and Science Friday.

While the foundation does not host a searchable grants database, grantseekers can learn more about areas it is funding on its Grantees in the News page. You can also more about the latest fellows here.

Sloan is more open than some other heavyweight funders, but the process for applying varies depending on the purpose and dollar amount of your request. There is a separate page if you are applying for a research fellowship. Note that Sloan won’t fund for-profit institutions, medical research, humanities, anything aimed at pre-college students, or building and equipment endowments.

It's important to note that some program areas fall exclusively under one program officer’s purview, so grantseekers should reach out to the appropriate program staff via a letter of inquiry (phone calls are discouraged) before applying.

PEOPLE:

  • Elizabeth S. Boylan, Director, Science of Learning STEM
  • Joshua Greenberg, Director, Digital Information Technology
  • Daniel L. Goroff, Vice President and Program Director, Sloan Research Fellowships / Program Director, Economic Institutions, Behavior and Performance
  • Evan S. Michelson, Program Officer, Energy & Environment

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