A $10 million gift — the largest in Howard University’s roughly 150-year history — will allow the school to expand a science and technology scholars program that was started to increase the presence of minorities in those fields, the school announced Wednesday.
“It says that our strategy to really focus on academic excellence, to bring innovative programs that answer the nation’s question of the lack of diversity in the STEM discipline” has been widely recognized, said Wayne A.I. Frederick, the university’s president.
Howard has contributed significantly to the growth in black students’ attainment of advanced degrees in STEM fields. Between 2013 and 2017, the school awarded 130 science and engineering doctoral degrees, the mostof any historically black college or university, according to data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.
The Bison STEM Scholars program will be renamed after the Karsh family, the university said. Bruce and Martha Karsh said in a statement that they are “proud to be able to help Howard attract and support the best and brightest students for its already renowned program.”
The specialty program admits about 30 new students a year, each of whom is offered full scholarships, research internships, opportunities to study abroad and professional mentoring. Frederick said the $10 million will be used for administrative costs, student advising services and financial assistance — particularly for students who want to study abroad but can’t afford passports or other necessities.
“A lot of these students are Pell Grant recipients, so they don’t have that disposable cash to do some of those other things,” Frederick said, referring to federal grants that go to students from low-income families.
The Karshes’ donation will also create the Lomax KIPP scholarship program, named after the chief executive officer and president of the United Negro College Fund, Michael L. Lomax. The award will cover the costs that remain after financial aid — including housing, meal plans and books — for two KIPP graduates who enroll at Howard. KIPP is a national network of public charter K-12 schools in underserved communities; seven of its campuses are in the District.
Students have until Feb. 15 to apply for the KIPP scholarship and until Jan. 30 to apply for the scholars program.
“The challenge has been, for many years, that many of these students don’t get the kind of preparation they need to be competitive in college,” said Lomax, who, along with Martha Karsh, is a member of KIPP’s board of directors. “KIPP has been rigorous about academic preparation. These young people are just the students we want to come to”historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs. Endowments at HBCUs lag behind those at historically white institutions, a gap that jeopardizes these institutions’ ability to rebound from decreases in state and federal funding, according to a report published by the United Negro College Fund and the American Council on Education, a higher education interest group.
The disparity can be attributed, in part, to a lack of relationships between minority-serving institutions and large philanthropic organizations, said Kayla Elliott, senior policy analyst for higher education at the Education Trust, a nonprofit focused on closing the achievement gap that disproportionately affects students of color and students from low-income families.
“Fundraising and development are primarily relationship-based, and conversations about these large gifts, and where they’re secured, also have to factor in access and the networks of universities,” Elliott said.
Before this announcement, Howard’s largest gift from a foundation came from the Hopper-Dean Foundation, which donated $4 million in December to the STEM scholars program. Meanwhile, neighboring George Washington and Georgetown universities have secured donations as large as $80 million (GWU) and $100 million (Georgetown).
“Relationships are a two-way street, so the parties on both of those ends have to find a way to connect,” Elliott said about HBCUs and donors. She said some philanthropies undergo diversity training so grant-makers can identify causes that typically go overlooked.
Richard Barth, chief executive officer of the KIPP Foundation, said in a statement that the donation will ensure more students “have access to a phenomenal college education and the opportunity to pursue their passions.”
Maurice Henderson, a 20-year-old biology major at Howard who attended a KIPP school in Chicago, said he hopes the gift will bring attention to him and his peers.
“This gift will shed light on HBCUs and show what people at HBCUs and other schools like it can do with the proper funding,” Henderson said.
The multimillion-dollar gift could encourage other philanthropists to support HBCUs during a time of financial uncertainty, Lomax said.
“I hope that Bruce and Martha’s gift — and the influence they have to make the case for other philanthropists — will demonstrate that HBCUs are a great investment,” Lomax said.