Win a $250,000 Scott Aaronson Grant for Advanced Precollege STEM Education!

Back in January, you might recall, Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn’s Survival and Flourishing Fund (SFF) was kind enough to earmark $200,000 for me to donate to any charitable organizations of my choice. So I posted a call for proposals on this blog. You “applied” to my “foundation” by simply sending me an email, or leaving a comment on this blog, with a link to your organization’s website and a 1-paragraph explanation of what you wanted the grant for, and then answering any followup questions that I had.

After receiving about 20 awesome proposals in diverse areas, in the end I decided to split the allotment among organizations around the world doing fantastic, badly-needed work in math and science enrichment at the precollege level. These included Canada/USA Mathcamp, AddisCoder, a magnet school in Maine, a math circle in Oregon, a math enrichment program in Ghana, and four others. I chose to focus on advanced precollege STEM education both because I have some actual knowledge and experience there, and because I wanted to make a strong statement about an underfunded cause close to my heart that’s recently suffered unjust attacks.

To quote the immortal Carl Sagan, from shortly before his death:

[C]hildren with special abilities and skills need to be nourished and encouraged. They are a national treasure. Challenging programs for the “gifted” are sometimes decried as “elitism.” Why aren’t intensive practice sessions for varsity football, baseball, and basketball players and interschool competition deemed elitism? After all, only the most gifted athletes participate. There is a self-defeating double standard at work here, nationwide.

Anyway, the thank-you notes from the programs I selected were some of the most gratifying emails I’ve ever received.

But wait, it gets better! After reading about the Scott Aaronson Speculation Grants on this blog, representatives from a large, reputable family foundation contacted me to say that they wanted to be involved too. This foundation, which wishes to remain anonymous at this stage although not to the potential grant recipient, intends to make a single US$250,000 grant in the area of advanced precollege STEM education. They wanted my advice on where their grant should go.

Of course, I could’ve simply picked one of the same wonderful organizations that SFF and I helped in the first round. On reflection, though, I decided that it would be more on the up-and-up to issue a fresh call for proposals.

So: do you run a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to advanced precollege STEM education? If so, email me or leave a comment here by Friday, September 9, telling me a bit about what your organization does and what more it could do with an extra $250K. Include a rough budget, if that will help convince me that you can actually make productive use of that amount, that it won’t just sit in your bank account. Organizations that received a Scott Aaronson Speculation Grant the last time are welcome to reapply; newcomers are also welcome.

I’ll pass up to three finalists along to the funder, which will then make a final decision as to the recipient. The funder will be directly in touch with the potential grantee(s) and will proceed with its intake, review and due diligence process.

We expect to be able to announce a recipient on or around October 24. Can’t wait to see what people come up with!

26 Responses to “Win a $250,000 Scott Aaronson Grant for Advanced Precollege STEM Education!”

  1. Chaoyang Lu Says:

    Awesome!

  2. OhMyGoodness Says:

    You always of course demonstrate exceptional intelligence but in this case you actually demonstrate wisdom. 🙂

    You have decided a such a wise use of these funds and so a heartfelt-respect bro.

  3. LK2 Says:

    It is beyond me to understand how many amazing achievements you had in your life. Thanks also for this initiative: you are also an inspiration for many STEM practitioners.

  4. Triceratops Says:

    You’re doing real good in the world Scott. Even better: you’re doing quantifiable good! Warm wishes and a tip of the hat from me.

  5. Joshua Paik Says:

    I would appreciate $200 so I can get nice champagne and not cheap champagne when I pass my comprehensive exams for my math PhD this month. I will send you pics of my committee and I having a glass.

  6. Yiftach Says:

    Scott, I find making important decisions in such situations very stressful. When do you know that you have enough information so you can make the decision? How do you actually decide what is the best choice? Do you have an organized process?

  7. David Says:

    Good man, Scott. I’m watching from the sidelines here but it does my heart good at times just to read your blog.

  8. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    I personally don’t run such an effort, but the American Mathematical Society certainly does:

    https://www.ams.org/programs/edu-support/epsilon/emp-epsilon

    I imagine that they can give you a rough budget if you want one. In the interim, they have a record of past awards:

    http://www.ams.org/prizes-awards/paview.cgi?parent_id=3

    You can do a lot worse than to join forces with the AMS on this.

  9. Scott Says:

    Greg Kuperberg #8: The AMS is welcome to apply if it wants to. But the funder wants me to exercise personal judgment rather than outsourcing it to someone else, and that’s what I intend to do.

  10. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Scott #9 – In that case, you could do worse than to plagiarize the AMS list. Even if you don’t copy it exactly, it’s a very good starting point. The AMS has only been thinking about the (math special case of) the exact same question for 22 years; see:

    http://www.ams.org/prizes-awards/pabrowse.cgi?parent_id=3

  11. Daniel Paleka Says:

    I am going to be contrarian here and say that I do not think this thing is (on the margin) a good use of money or effort.
    Precollege STEM education and opportunities in the US are extremely developed; just compare the number of people who can go to college early in the US, as opposed to anywhere else.

    In your previous post, you said one of the goals was to “ensure that the next Ramanujan or von Neumann isn’t lost to the world.” I agree that this cause is kind of important and tractable; however giving money to US organization does not improve upon the neglectedness.
    Investing in the same cause almost anywhere else in the world is a much better use of money.

    In fact, I would bet that you can likely do more good by just splitting the money equally to all non-Anglosphere organizations who apply (discarding those with an US presence), than by picking the best organization that applies and works only with US-based students.

  12. Andrei Says:

    Hey, have you seen this new intro to CH? You would probably find it interesting.

    https://arxiv.org/abs/2208.13731

  13. Scott Says:

    Daniel Paleka #11: One big lesson I’ve learned, having been dragooned into advising charitable foundations, is that you can’t just decide from your armchair what would be an optimal use of funds while ignoring their logistical constraints. The funder I’m advising is US-based and can donate only to IRS-registered 501(c)(3)s. Importantly, that can include organizations that operate anywhere in the world—and I’ll consider all such organizations! They just have to be registered in the US.

    In addition, though: the recent backlash against any sort of acceleration or advancement in STEM seems to me like mostly a phenomenon of the Anglosphere countries, certainly including the US (someone correct me if I’m wrong). I hadn’t heard of anything similar in Continental Europe, the former Soviet countries, or East Asia, for example. And certainly I have direct knowledge of STEM enrichment efforts in the US that are wildly, ridiculously underfunded—though I could believe that similar efforts elsewhere are underfunded even worse.

  14. Scott Says:

    Greg Kuperberg #10: That’s a huge list of organizations, many though not all of which I was already aware of. Crucially, the funder was extremely clear that they wanted to pick just one. So, I’ll rely on my application process to winnow things down based on the organizations’ current needs and plans—at least, among those organizations that aren’t too proud to apply to me. 🙂 If there are organizations on the AMS list that you particularly like, you’re very welcome to encourage them to apply.

  15. Scott Says:

    Andrei #12: Yes, I’m not only aware but have been in touch with the author! It’s high on my list to read. I hope it’s so good that it saves me from the need to finish my own series on CH! 🙂

  16. asdf Says:

    Andrei #12, per the abstract,

    The independence of the continuum hypothesis is a result of broad impact: it settles a basic question regarding the nature of N and R, two of the most familiar mathematical structures.

    I’d instead have written that the independence of CH shows that the axioms of ZFC set theory fall short of settling that questions.

  17. Thereza Paiva Says:

    Hello! We are a Brazilian initiative founded by female Physicists that want to bring more girls into STEM. We operate in Brazil and therefore are not “a registered 501(c)(3)”, but we definitely are nonprofit and dedicated to advanced precollege STEM education”. Can we still apply for the grant?

  18. Scott Says:

    Thereza #17: Sorry, but I believe the funder can give only to 501(c)(3)’s — they have to be registered in the US, even if they operate elsewhere.

  19. Scott Says:

    Maybe a word about my personal preferences: I recognize that STEM programs specifically targeted at girls and other underrepresented populations can have great value. However, if we only get to make one award, my preference is a program that makes efforts toward diversity but does not exclude any student on the basis of race, sex, or other immutable characteristics.

  20. Qwerty Says:

    How wonderful! Happy to see this get encouragement. Thank you for doing this and in this way.

  21. Max Says:

    As a high school student who suffers from a complete lack of TAG education, thank you.

  22. Bandar Says:

    Hi Scott; is it too late to submit a proposal?

  23. Scott Says:

    Bandar #22: Sorry, yes.

  24. Diana M. Fisher Says:

    Dear Mr. Aaronson,
    I (a retired high school math teacher) have been involved for 30 years trying to bring the study of dynamic systems into pre-college education via having students build computer simulations of systems and then test policies on those systems to try to improve them. The software is icon-based so MUCH more accessible to a broad range of students. There is currently a “lite” free, web-based version of the software for teachers to use. (I think this can really change how we teach high school algebra.)
    This approach can start in kindergarten with students analyzing story book dynamics and sketching a simple rectangle (representing the dynamic variable) with one inflow to increase it and one outflow to decrease it. It can end with students in grade 12 building models to study global climate change, environmental degradation, spread of epidemics, homeostasis in the body, etc. We have up to 30 years of experience that precollege students can do this.
    What we need are research studies to document the increased depth of learning in our students we have observed over the years. (We would like to hire an expert in assessing student learning from systems-based model-building activities (about $35K/year), and compensation for 10 experimental researcher and classroom teacher teams (about $4K/team/year), and compensation for the 3.5 teachers who would write the lessons (about $4000/4 lessons/teacher) needed for use by the research teams. Also, we would need someone to oversee this process (about $10,000/year) and we would need to publicize (widely) the results (about $20,000/year). So for a 3-year study this would come to $249,000.
    I know this is not a “flashy” use of the funds, but there is a REAL need for our children to understand dynamic systems so they develop the skills to actually be able to mitigate some of the global problematic systems that will be a big part of their lives.
    Thank you,
    Diana M. Fisher

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