How Kern Family Foundation Approaches STEM Funding

Kern Family Foundation believes scientists and engineers should be entrepreneurs as well as innovators. That's the idea behind the funder's signature STEM funding program, the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN). This national initiative by the Wisconsin-based foundation encourages private engineering colleges to produce entrepreneurially minded graduates. A coalition of 19 such institutions comprise KEEN.

As part of this program, Kern recently awarded the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology a $2.25 million grant to encourage further development of entrepreneurial learning programs. Rose-Hulman, based in Terre Haute, IN, is a member of KEEN and a past recipient of Kern funding.

This new grant will support efforts to engage the school's faculty in groups designed to infuse entrepreneurial minded learning across disciplines, including the humanities. It also will educate faculty about entrepreneurial education, expose high school seniors to entrepreneurial education through Rose-Hulman's summer enrichment program, and expand the school's student leadership advancement program.

The grant, which extends from 2015 through 2018, also will lend further support to the KEEN/Rose-Hulman Case Study Initiative, funded by a 2013 grant from Kern. The school and the funder hope this will become a national resource for producing case studies that instill an entrepreneurial mindset in engineering students.

If you're unfamiliar with Kern Family Foundation, here's a primer: The funder is based in Waukesha, WI, and was formed in 1998 when founders Robert and Patricia Kern sold a portion of Generac Power Systems, the company they founded in 1959. Today, the funder has assets of more than $600 million, making it Wisconsin's second-largest philanthropic organization, after the better-known Bradley Foundation.

Like Bradley, Kern is interested in conservative-oriented causes and programs. Besides KEEN, Kern is a major funder of charter schools. However, while Bradley is more overtly political, supporting conservative policy advocates such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, Kern is more religious in its giving. Its Faith, Work, and Economics program strives to educate pastors with greater understanding of the intersection of religion and economic issues.

Related: Five Funders Religious Colleges Should Get to Know