OVERVIEW: Cognizant is one of the world’s leading information technology companies, hauling in around $9 billion in annual revenue. While not a foundation, the company’s corporate sustainability program funds science education, including after-school and summer STEM programs and scholarships.
IP TAKE: Cognizant’s grants program is perfect for informal education centers that place an emphasis on fun. Grants go to programs inspired by “maker” culture.
PROFILE: Cognizant started as the in-house technology department of business rating company Dun & Bradstreet. It saw substantial growth since splitting off in the 1990’s, dwarfing the corporation it used to call home. The company provides information technology, consulting, and systems outsourcing, and is regularly featured on lists of high-ranking and fast-growing technology companies.
Like many corporations, Cognizant has a sustainability program (often called corporate social responsibility or corporate citizenship), and like many tech companies, one of its big focus areas is STEM education.
There’s a commonly accepted sense that, especially in the U.S., an insufficient number of students are pursuing science, tech, engineering and math education careers. Cognizant’s contribution to solving this problem is spread among a few programs, mostly housed in its “Making the Future” initiative.
One unique thing about Cognizant’s giving is that it’s often driven by the ethos of the “maker" culture. The maker movement is relatively new, and strives for the democratization of tech, engineering and manufacturing, with an emphasis on creative projects and providing communal spaces—so-called “makerspaces.” The best spaces offer a variety of tools that allow anyone to build nearly any project imaginable. And educators are catching on, setting up spaces in educational centers and working to get as many kids in the door as possible.
That approach manifests in Cognizant’s giving, which emphasizes “learning opportunities that are widely accessible, stimulating, enriching—and fun.” The principle is that when it comes to getting students involved in STEM careers, interest and excitement are more important than aptitude, so the key is for them to enjoy the experience.
The primary grantmaking program funds makerspaces, science centers and other after-school and summer programs. Launched in collaboration with the Maker Education Initiative and the New York Hall of Science in 2011 with 10 awards. In recent years more than two dozen 'Making the Future' grants annually have gone to various after-school, in-school, and summer programs across the U.S. Grants typically range from $5,000 to $25,000 each.
Regarding the demographics of those who benefit from its grantmaking, Cognizant has no “specific requirements for socio-economic, gender, or race of targeted children,” but does look “to have at least half of the funded programs to be serving high-need communities, and encourage focusing on girls and minorities, both under-represented in the STEM disciplines.” Each round of grants starts with an RFP in the fall.
There’s also a scholarship program that awards $5,000 each to either undergraduate college students or the college-eligible. Similar to the education grants, the scholarships emphasize the principles of the maker movement, requiring documentation of hands-on projects involving disciplines like electronics, robotics, 3D printing or computing. The application period for this award runs from the beginning of October through the end of March.
Finally, there are a few one-off initiatives the company funds. Cognizant is a supporter of Change the Equation, a CEO-led nonprofit to improve STEM learning, and is “a founding member of US2020, an effort to mobilize one million STEM mentors annually by 2020.” It’s also a founding sponsor of the Maker Space in the New York Hall of Science.
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