IBM is the nation’s largest corporate grants provider outside of the pharmaceutical industry, and its role in supporting education extends throughout the United States and the world. As one of the world’s leading computer companies, IBM’s support quite naturally gravitates toward projects that create access to computers and enhance their use in instructional settings. Thus, IBM is one of the most steady and reliable sources of corporate support for K-12 technology.

IBM’s support runs both wide and deep. The company has provided more than $30 million in grants and other support to K-12 education programs in the U.S. in each of the past three years, according to spokesperson Flor Estevez. Its employees, who give another $25 million to charities (which IBM matches dollar-for-dollar), often direct those funds to education-related projects. And IBM also supports groups such as the United Way and Fund for Community Service, which offer many youth-oriented computer access programs.

IBM also is a major developer of free educational web sites. To cite the most recent example, IBM helped launch TryScience (http://www.tryscience.org) last May. This web site is a youth-oriented exploration of the world’s leading science museums in collaboration with the New York Hall of Science and the member institutions of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, and it offers numerous lesson plans.

IBM supports K-12 education in other ways, too. It is a major participant in Achieve Inc. (http://www.achieve.org), a non-partisan effort to improve U.S. education by developing benchmarks and raising standards in every state. The company also has produced several valuable reports and research papers that assess which types of technology projects have truly improved K-12 education.

IBM’s commitment to K-12 education has been recognized throughout the education and philanthropic communities. This year, the company was one of the recipients of the inaugural Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership, created by President Bill Clinton to honor companies for outstanding contributions in community leadership. In past years, it has received the Council on Foundation’s Scrivner Award for Creative Grant-making; a Best in Class Award from the Conference Board; and a Leaders in Change Award from the Council for Aid to Education.

Specific programs

IBM directs much of its education funding through the Reinventing Education program, which began in 1994. These are monetary grants, donations of equipment, and commitments of staff time and expertise to solve fundamental education challenges. Reinventing Education encourages programs that promise the same types of systemic change that the Education Department supports through its Reinventing Schools program.

“The key criteria [are] identifying an innovative project or approach that has broad applicability, plus the commitment to change standard practice in order to improve student achievement,” said Estevez. “We are seeking partners who are willing to invest themselves in the projects.”

IBM’s support of technology as a driving force for innovation dates back at least to 1994, when it started the Wired for Learning program. As its name implies, Wired for Learning focused on wiring schools to the internet.

Now that the federal eRate program is taking care of most schools’ wiring issues, IBM is leading its corporate and foundation peers in using the online world’s unique capabilities to improve education. For example, IBM staff work with educators in Cincinnati to use online resources that literally have restructured the entire philosophy of public school scheduling and curricula. By using online education to complement their personal instruction, Cincinnati teachers no longer have to work within the formal, 45-minute class structure that is common at schools around the country. They may lengthen individual classes or drop some altogether. Students work at their own pace and must meet certain educational goals established at the start of the year.

Elsewhere, Wired for Learning is supporting intensive professional development online, with in-person supplemental classes, which will enable teachers to improve their ability to teach math and science. In another example of its support for professional development, IBM joined Intel’s Teach to the Future program earlier this year by providing free laptop computers to 200 teachers who are participating in the program.

“Our grants focus on our unique expertise—the services, research, training, etc.—that IBMers can offer,” said Estevez. “Our projects include hardware, software, and primarily IBM researchers and developers working in conjunction with the school district to use technology to address a critical issue for education.”

IBM’s programs stretch throughout the school year—and beyond. This year, IBM sent 150 middle-school girls to computer and engineering summer camps at IBM facilities across the country (and another 250 girls in other nations). The company will provide the girls with online mentors during the school year, as part of an effort to encourage girls to consider technical careers.

IBM also supports an online education channel, the schedule of which is at http://www.ieg.ibm.com. And, it hosts online presentations about trends in the use of technology in K-12 and higher education. Look for these on the Global Education section of its web site.

How to get funds

Despite the variety of programs that IBM supports, getting funding from the company is not easy. In fact, IBM funds very few unsolicited project proposals. For the most part, the company supports programs that are identified by its own employees and researchers with whom the IBM Foundation is working. Because the company is seeking to support the reinvention of education, it tends to back large-scale and sophisticated projects, especially those with a research component. Usually, the projects receive several years of funding if they show promise in the initial stages.

One way to attract support from IBM without the direct link of IBMers is to be affiliated with organizations, such as Funds for Community Service or United Way, that have strong ties with the company. Through these groups, IBM can reliably meet its other mission of serving underserved populations, Estevez noted. “We give some priority to those communities where there are large numbers of IBMers, but this is not a requirement,” she said.

However, IBM does, on occasion, issue a call for proposals with specific sets of objectives that are smaller in scale and scope and not directly linked to a community in which it has a presence, Estevez said. When it does so, “we promote this broadly through the web, direct correspondence with superintendents, media releases to the education trades, and more,” she said. Meanwhile, unsolicited proposals are accepted at any time and can be filed by visiting IBM’s web site, going to the section on corporate philanthropy, and following the instructions.