Bloomberg Continues Big Gift Trend, Focuses On STEM

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 13 May 2021

Bloomberg Continues Big Gift Trend, Focuses On STEM

Bloomberg's $150 million funding for the programme is another example of the big gift trend within philanthropy. In this instance, the media businessman and former NYC mayor is concentrating on the area of diversity in STEM subjects within higher education and post-graduate research.

Businessman and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg is teaming up with his alma mater, John Hopkins University, to widen opportunities for minority groups pursuing courses in science, technology, engineering and maths. A total of $150 million is being granted by Bloomberg Philanthropies, continuing a trend of big gifts in philanthropy.

The funding will be used to create “additional pathways for students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to pursue and receive PhDs in STEM fields,” Bloomberg Philanthropies said in a statement yesterday.

“STEM fields play an increasingly important role in developing innovative solutions to a wide range of pressing challenges, yet STEM PhD programmes don’t reflect the broad diversity of our country. So creating more equitable opportunities for more students is critical to our country’s future in so many ways,” Michael R Bloomberg said in a statement. “By supporting JHU’s world-class STEM programme, and by partnering with historically Black and minority-serving schools that have a strong record of educating students who go on to get STEM PhDs, we will help increase diversity in industries that will pioneer advances we have not yet even imagined, and shape the lives of generations to come.”

Bloomberg has already established a track record in academy-focused big gifts, as well as funding for other projects. For example, in 2018, Bloomberg gifted $1.8 billion to John Hopkins University from his private fortune. The amounts involved in modern philanthropy, even allowing for inflation compared with the era of the Rockefellers and Carnegies, are huge. (John D Rockefeller Snr was a notable benefactor to medical research.) A number of billionaires have signed the Giving Pledge, promising to transfer at least half of their vast wealth to philanthropic causes. The Giving Pledge was started in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Explaining the new venture, Bloomberg Philanthropies said that studies show that STEM PhD programmes do not reflect the broad diversity of talent and perspectives that other fields of study have cultivated, nor have they effectively recruited scholars matriculating from diverse undergraduate institutions.

It cited National Science Foundation data showing that in 2019, there were more than 30 fields of science – including multiple disciplines in biology, chemistry, physics, maths, and engineering – in which fewer than five PhDs were awarded to Black or Latinx students in the US. 

“While Black Americans comprise 13 per cent of the US population and Latinx people 18 per cent, in 2019 they received just three and seven per cent, respectively, of new engineering, maths, physical sciences and computer science PhDs, according to the NSF. The deficits in STEM diversity extend beyond Black and Latinx students; the percentage of science or engineering PhDs awarded to Native American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students has been stagnant at about a third of their share of the population for a decade,” BP said in its statement. 

“Scientific discovery that continually advances human flourishing and creates a healthier, safer world must be fuelled by the expertise and insights of people of differing perspectives and ideas. Yet, decades of data and our own experience show the persistent truth that PhD programmes, particularly in the STEM fields, do not reflect the full spectrum of available talent,” Ronald J Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, said. “We cannot hope to produce the best science nor ensure that our faculties are truly representative until we increase the diversity of our PhD programmes. Through the Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative, John Hopkins now has the opportunity and imperative to invest ambitiously, think ambitiously, and act ambitiously to begin correcting the longstanding inequity in PhD education.”

This news service has written about some of the issues that big gifts bring up, such as founders ensuring that their objectives are enforced. 

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