The Michelson Spark Grants program is an innovative, just-in-time grant-making process designed to fill the urgent needs of organizations that are well-aligned with the mission of Michelson 20MM Foundation. Launched in 2019, the program accelerates the traditional decisionmaking process with a commitment to decide on each application within 15 business days. To date, Michelson 20MM has issued 27 grants across six funding cycles, the latest of which centers on college affordability and student basic needs.
“In many ways, this is a grand experiment to innovate within grantmaking, which has been relatively stagnant,”
Phillip J. Kim
CEO, Michelson 20MM Foundation
“In many ways, this is a grand experiment to innovate within grantmaking, which has been relatively stagnant,” says Michelson 20MM CEO Phillip J. Kim. “Our experience with grantees over the first six cycles—the quality of opportunities and the early impact of the programs funded—has validated critical parts of our initial hypothesis that targeted, rapid-response grants can seed important proof-of-concept projects or even exponentially amplify kernels of promising programs.”
Root & Rebound (R&R), a legal advocacy center focused on ending the harm caused by mass incarceration, was at the forefront of the “Ban the Box” movement. R&R’s Incarceration to Education Coalition convenes formerly incarcerated students and graduates, nonprofit organizations, and advocates to increase equitable access to higher education institutions, degrees, and resulting career pathways for current and prospective students with criminal records.
As a result of this collaborative effort, California successfully Banned the Box in Higher Education (BTBHE), removing the question regarding an individual’s criminal history on college applications in public, private, undergraduate, and graduate degree-granting programs. A new project with R&R facilitated policy implementation of BTBHE and Fair Chance Licensing reform that went into effect in 2020. The Spark Grant they received empowered R&R to train staff at key California higher education institutions and licensing boards on best practices for implement ing the “Ban the Box” and Fair Chance policies. Root & Rebound’s work will also ensure justice-involved students are aware of their rights in career paths requiring licensure once they enroll in a higher education program.
Economic Opportunity Within Reach
An essential component of the Michelson 20MM Smart Justice Initiative is economic security. In the workforce, people with criminal records are often siloed into accepting low-skill jobs that keep them, their families, and communities in poverty. Michelson 20MM is committed to disrupting this through sector-specific workforce strategies that invest in high-growth, high-wage-earning potential careers for justice-involved individuals.
In 2020, Michelson 20MM awarded Spark Grants to 2nd Call, Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. 2nd Call innovates on opening the construction trades and well-paying union jobs through a trauma-informed workforce approach to success. Similarly, the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program ensures that justice-involved heroes fighting fires on the West Coast while detained in fire camps have the opportunity to pursue firefighting as a career after their release. The Anti-Recidivism Coalition is advancing innovative workforce programming in green tech and the electric vehicle industry in partnership with postsecondary institutions. Careers in firefighting, construction, and green tech will set justice-involved candidates up for well-paying vocations—ensuring that economic prosperity is within reach.
“My experience as a surgeon and medical device inventor has taught me that experimentation drives innovation forward.”
Dr. Gary K. Michelson
Founder & Co-chair, Michelson Philanthropies
Michelson 20MM is committed to helping students, faculty, and administrators as everyone navigates the challenges presented by COVID-19. Widely recognized as the nation’s leader on college affordability advising and training, uAspire was awarded a Spark Grant in March 2020 to provide virtual advising to over 12,000 students and online technical assistance support for hundreds of practitioners in response to the pandemic. With headquarters in Boston and offices in New York City and Oakland, California, uAspire works to ensure students minimize their prospective debts and make responsible financial decisions regarding postsecondary choices.
To support chronicling MIT’s digital transformation and uncover insights for the larger education sector in light of the new reality, Michelson 20MM awarded a Spark Grant to MIT’s Office of Open Learning. The grant helps preserve knowledge of the process of transforming physical classes into online courses in the wake of COVID-19. The initiative also seeks to highlight best practices that educators at other institutions can implement when undertaking their journey to digitization.
The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) is on a mission to improve learning and collaboration in education through social science research, research-based innovations, and by assisting schools, colleges, and universities in developing open education environments. Michelson 20MM awarded ISKME a Spark Grant to accelerate the use of open educational resources for distance education.
Student Basic Needs
Backed by a newly awarded Spark Grant, Swipe Out Hunger is leveraging its network of students and administrators to help create effective systems for disbursing and publicizing federal emergency aid to students across its member campuses. The organization is developing digital training tools and strategies to ensure responsive, transparent, and equitable distribution of funds. Swipe Out Hunger also is consulting with school administrators on the design of their emergency aid programs.
“Today’s college students have enormous potential, and with stronger support from state and federal policies they will succeed in transforming the lives of their families and communities.“
Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab
A Spark Grant was awarded to Believe in Students and the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice to support their legislative educational outreach and policy efforts, including their work to increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits such as food stamps and emergency aid for college students. “Today’s college students have enormous potential, and with stronger support from state and federal policies they will succeed in transforming the lives of their families and communities,” says Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Temple University professor of sociology and medicine and founder/president of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. “We appreciate the support from Michelson 20MM for this effort to advance systemic change.”
Find out more about the diverse areas in which Michelson Philanthropies are engaged, and Alya and Dr. Michlelson’s commitment to “make the world a little less unfair” in our 2021 Impact Report.