S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation: Grants for Science Education

OVERVIEW: This San Francisco-based funder is mostly interested in California, and recently narrowed down to two programs, one of which is education with an emphasis on STEM. The foundation's STEM focus is all about teachers and teaching standards, but two other programs on character and policy have a lot to do with science and math, too.

IP TAKE: Bechtel announced it is spending down by 2020, and while grantmaking has been on the rise, it has stopped taking uninvited proposals or inquiries. It is even more of a longshot for programs outside of California, but has played a big role in science education in the Golden State.

PROFILE: The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is one of a number of prominent Bay Area foundations that give a great deal of support for STEM education and the environment. It's a little different, though, in that the foundation isn’t endowed by Silicon Valley tech fortunes. Bechtel is actually the largest construction and engineering firm in the country.

Started by S.D. Bechtel, Jr., grandson of the company founder, the foundation (not to be confused with the separate entity the Bechtel Group Foundation) recently gave its grantmaking something of a redesign, although it's mostly shuffling things around and narrowing focus a bit. The reworked guidelines are part of the funder's plan to spend down its entire assets by 2020.

Revamped grantmaking is still focused almost entirely on California, with two major programs in education and the environment. The education program has one specific focus on STEM, but two others bleed into the STEM subjects as well. Bechtel has given some massive recent grants to California universities as well as funded “out-of-school,” “in-school,” and policy and advocacy efforts.

The education program has a few focus points, one of which is entirely on STEM, aiding the transition to new math and science standards in California. But the other two concentrations are on character and education policy and advocacy, neither of which is entirely separate from STEM education.

The thrust of the official STEM priority is helping school districts implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core standards in math. Bechtel is funding school districts to help them adopt the standards and funding programs to help teachers prepare for them, including Math in Common and the Fresno Teacher Residency Program.

After-school grants seem to have mostly shifted over to the character program, which is aimed at youth groups and mentoring programs. The two examples the funder cites are Girls Incorporated and the Boys & Girls Club of America. Another major out-of-school project funded in the past by Bechtel is the STEM2program, a partnership between schools and afterschool programs in California to improve science education outside of the classroom.

On the policy side, there's also a big focus on education standards and making sure they are implemented well, through direct grants to NGSS and a nonprofit driving implementation called Achieve. The program ensures that decision makers are well-informed, holding convenings and tracking implementation of reform policy as preferred tactics.

Exactly what's happening during the foundation's spend down isn't fully clear at this point. But despite the tinkering with guidelines, it doesn't seem as though the grantee list is going to change too much. President and daughter of Bechtel, Lauren Dachs, has pointed out that the foundation will be working to position its grantees for long-term financial stability and exploring funder collaboratives. She also recently stated that the foundation will be awarding “modest grants to build knowledge and perspective on foundation exits and spend-downs” for other organizations who find themselves in similar positions in the future.

Another important change to note is in a break with past policy, Bechtel is now discouraging uninvited proposals and LOIs. So while it appears grantmaking is ramping up toward the 2020 shuttering, decisions are looking to be limited to existing recipients or those initiated by program staff.  

PEOPLE:

  • Lauren Dachs, President and Executive Director
  • Susan Harvey, Program Director, STEM Education
  • Lisa Lomento, Senior Program Officer, STEM Education

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