N.C. GSK Foundation works to boost education

By Todd Cohen

When its endowment plunged from $76.4 million in October 2007 to $39.5 million in February 2009 following the collapse of the economy in September 2008, the board of the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation bucked a philanthropic trend and dug deeper, including a new effort to address needs in communities that lacked local funders.

“They felt they could not pull away and reduce their support for the citizens of North Carolina, particularly at a time when that need was at its all-time greatest,” says Marilyn Foote-Hudson, the Durham-based foundation’s executive director.

Formed in 1986, the foundation has approved nearly $60 million in grants, including over $4 million it approved and $3.3 million it has paid out in the current fiscal year.

This year’s funding includes $2.1 million for the new grants program that aims to reach all of North Carolina’s 100 counties through one-time grants of $25,000 to nonprofits for projects that boost science, health and education in their communities.

Education, often to support science or health, and typically delivered through campuses of the University of North Carolina system, including efforts to support education in kindergarten through high school, is the main focus of the foundation’s funding.

“It’s all about education,” Foote-Hudson says. “We are an education foundation.”

And while the new program focuses on smaller grants to nonprofits in local communities, the foundation typically makes a handful of big grants a year to address overarching educational initiatives.

This fiscal year, for example, it approved a five-year grant of $2 million to the North Carolina Museum of Art to help integrate art into the classroom by providing teachers with resources to help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

It also approved a three-year grant of $1 million to the General Administration of the University of North Carolina system to provide access to higher education to six UNC campuses for students who struggle because they learn differently.

And it recently approved a three-year grant of $1.5 million to North Carolina Central University in Durham for scholarships and program improvements to increase the number of women and minority students who graduate with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math, known as STEM, and to pursue careers in those fields.

A key strategy of that effort, which will begin in the fall of 2013 and serve about 40 students at the historically black school, will be to provide them with faculty and industry mentors.

Since 1993, the foundation also has paid over $1.6 million to support its Women In Science Scholars program at 29 North Carolina colleges and universities, providing an endowed scholarship for students studying science, and pairing them with professional women scientists at GSK who volunteer to serve as mentors.

And it provides annual awards of $5,000 and $2,000 each, respectively, or a total of about $100,000 a year, that recognize local health departments and individual advocates for improving the health status of children.

The vast majority of the foundation’s grants support the UNC system, a public institution that is struggling in the face of the economic downturn, with the number of course offerings and faculty being cut, Foote-Hudson says.

“Our commitment is to support the citizens of North Carolina,” she says. “Public institutions are the place to do that.”

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