Science Philanthropy Alliance Strategy Director Dr. Kate Lowry was a featured panelist at the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities (HSRU) Conference on Supporting Hispanic Women in Physical Sciences and Engineering. Dr. Lowry took part in a fireside chat moderated by Sarah Carle, Executive Director of Foundation Relations, as part of the conference’s “Foundation Funding Opportunities” panel. The conference was hosted by UC Santa Cruz, on June 26-29, 2023. Dr. Lowry’s fellow panelist included Dr. Louis J. Muglia, President and CEO of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and member of the Science Philanthropy Alliance’s Advisory Board.
The HRSU conference brought together an inaugural cohort of faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and allies to collaboratively define and develop a framework to support the advancement of Hispanic women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) academic and professional careers.
Dr. Lowry shared the Science Philanthropy Alliance’s mission of advancing scientific discovery through visionary philanthropy and highlighted the Alliance’s work focused on advising new and established philanthropists and foundations and making science philanthropy more impactful and effective as a key sector of the research enterprise.
During her remarks, Dr. Lowry described how many philanthropic foundations have undergone a fundamental change in their interest and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in science. Dr. Lowry described a survey of Alliance members in 2018 that revealed DEI as the top topic of interest and a series of workshops, discussions, and training on DEI led by experts and foundation leaders. The Alliance created a DEI Shared Interest Group (SIG) in 2020 to provide a platform for continued DEI learning among foundations, with dozens of members meeting regularly to discuss ways to advance DEI through philanthropy. The group is currently chaired by Dr. Lorelle Espinosa, Program Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Craig Wesley, Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Simons Foundation. Dr. Cyndi Atherton, Science Director at the Heising-Simons Foundation was a founding co-chair of this group.
Dr. Lowry also highlighted the adoption of DEI as a core value and a strategic goal of the Science Philanthropy Alliance and the recognition that “diversity in science is excellence in science” – and that greater diversity in perspectives leads to increased scientific innovation and impact. Dr. Lowry noted that DEI in STEM will remain a priority for philanthropic funders.
Additionally, Dr. Lowry discussed how philanthropic foundations can advance DEI in STEM, drawing on a recent NASEM report and examples of Alliance member foundations that have implemented effective strategies. Real-world illustrations cited by Dr. Lowry included the Heising-Simons Foundation improving DEI in their grantmaking processes for a postdoctoral fellowship program in planetary astronomy by allowing direct applications, asking for DEI statements from applicants, tracking demographics, and mitigating bias among reviewers.
Another example offered was the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s commissioning of two landscape scans to assess DEI efforts and investments in U.S. STEM graduate education, resulting in a call to science philanthropies to fund a broader set of institutions. Dr. Lowry described the Sloan Foundation’s decision to invest in Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and other entities with a strong track record for enrolling and graduating underrepresented students and their new Sloan Centers for Systemic Change.
When asked about compelling projects, Dr. Lowry described a $5.7 million award from the Simons Foundation to Spelman College, the oldest historically Black women’s liberal arts college in the U.S. and a leader in graduating Black women who go on to complete doctorates in STEM fields. The award supports Spelman faculty in science and mathematics by reducing their teaching loads, allowing more time for research and greater opportunities for student research.
Both Dr. Lowry and co-panelist Dr. Muglia encouraged audience members to apply for philanthropic funding for their research, emphasizing that science philanthropy is an important yet often underrecognized funder of scientific research and can play a catalytic role, especially for early career researchers. Dr. Muglia described many funding opportunities through the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and encouraged researchers to contact foundation program officers via email before applying. Dr. Lowry pointed to the recordings and resources from the Science Philanthropy Alliance’s virtual Research Institutions Meeting in March 2023 and described ongoing work to share information and open funding calls with the research community.