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Applied Materials Education Initiative marks more than 10 years of supporting school transformation and improved student outcomes

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In 2001, an alarming number of very low performing schools and students were causing great concern throughout the Silicon Valley region, especially among businesses. In response, Applied Materials set a new philanthropic strategic course through its Education Initiative with the goal of increasing the number of students who graduate from high school inspired and prepared to have success in college and life. Today with consistent emphasis on system transformation, Applied Materials has a success story and a strategy worth sharing. Students and schools are achieving performance scores at levels previously considered unattainable. Michele Walker-Moak, Global Community Affairs Manager, recently shared some insights behind the initiative with the Center.

How did this program get off the ground?  What prompted Applied Materials to transition toward a more focused giving approach and what have been the benefits of making this change?

Prior to 2001, Applied Materials’ Global Community Affairs group engaged in traditional education grant-making, but was unable to determine cumulative or measurable results. Although many excellent programs were supported, there was no direct evidence that investments had significantly contributed to improvement in Silicon Valley education. Therefore, the company commissioned an independent study which revealed a number of low-income neighborhoods with schools that were performing at the lowest levels in the region and a lack of qualified teachers in those same schools. As a result, Applied Materials  and The Applied Materials Foundation developed a new strategy to guide education grant-making that included metrics and critical leverage points from kindergarten readiness through graduation from high school with the preparation and aspiration to succeed in college and careers. Seeking to maximize impact, the company shifted to a more strategic and targeted approach to serve high-need children in two specific communities: downtown and the Alum Rock neighborhood in San Jose.

Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter visits an education initiative classroom.

In 2001, Applied Materials launched its formal Education Initiative in Silicon Valley to give underserved youth in high-need communities better access to a high-quality education. The initiative has grown from a pilot program at one school to engagement at more than 71 schools in the U.S.  Applied Materials is currently coordinating with national partners to leverage this work at other North America locations. Along the way, it has significantly improved test scores in school districts where the Foundation invests its philanthropic dollars and has made it possible for thousands of young people to graduate from high school ready to be successful in college or to start productive careers.

How is the program coordinated and executed? What departments are involved?

The Applied Materials Global Community Affairs group manages the Education Initiative, which is funded by the Applied Materials Foundation, with an average of $2 million in education grants designated annually for education in San Jose, Calif.; Austin, Texas, and other North America locations where the company has a presence. We work with an education consultant to manage the program and lend support to school districts and nonprofit partners as a subject matter expert.

In addition to grant investments, we also provide:

  • Corporate leadership advocating at school board meetings and rallying other funders to support the work.
  • Capacity building services of a half-time, part-time education expert to work with partners
  • Communication tools for partners to advance their work
  • Opportunities for partners to work together and leverage their efforts
  • Company facilities for professional development meetings
  • Support of partners’ fundraising events

How do you engage with your partners? What shared value is created from the partnerships?

We have developed a working relationship with each of our partners and grantees, which is characterized by frank and open communication about the successes and challenges of our shared endeavor. We conduct numerous site visits, participate in planning sessions, monitor results, and problem solve when the need arises.  Because we are on the ground with our partners, we are able to make connections between programs that enable greater returns and increased leverage. We strongly encourage our partners to join forces and coordinate their efforts to maximize results.

How did you decide which metrics to track? Is performance tracked internally or do you rely on your partners to provide you with that information?

The Education Initiative puts readily available public data to work in tracking and measuring impact. Each of the critical leverage points has one or more data points, such as the percentage of students who enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed, percentage of students reading on grade level by the end of third grade, percentage of students passing algebra in the eighth grade, etc. In addition, we rely on the partners we support to provide in-depth analysis of student data and tactics so we can utilize that information to continuously improve teaching and learning.

Are the lessons from this initiative transferrable to other giving priorities besides education?

As a result of our 10-year investment in the Education Initiative, we believe that several strategies are applicable to our other giving priority areas:

  • Engage deeply and invest over a sustained period of time to achieve significant results
  • Identify barriers to success and support programs to overcome them
  • Support and strengthen effective leadership
  • Encourage partners to collaborate
  • Measure results over time to assess effectiveness

How has the use of public, nonprofit and private partnerships helped you to achieve your philanthropic goals?

Today, Applied Materials is a recognized thought leader in corporate foundation funding for education. Applied Materials is currently the leading corporation involved in three key initiatives in Silicon Valley that mirror the company’s education pathway strategy as the basis for measuring progress in education:  San Jose 2020, a joint project launched by the mayor’s office and the county superintendent of education to close the achievement gap; the Santa Clara County Children’s Agenda; and the Santa Clara County Partnership for School Readiness.

Were there any challenges involved in selecting partners or developing relationships with them? If so, how did you overcome them?

In order to clarify roles and responsibilities for major grants that involve both public and nonprofit partners, we craft memorandums of understanding that are more and more frequently including additional funders. Together we agree upon a set of deliverables and define what we consider success. We see collaboration, especially with collective impact models, as a growing part of our work.

What were some of the best practices or lessons learned from the initiative? What advice do you have for other companies exploring similar avenues?

Through engaged collaborative partnerships with individual schools, school districts, charter schools, and nonprofit organizations, the Education Initiative has impacted 120 schools, 8,200 teachers, and 42,000 students in San Jose. By investing over a sustained period of time and consistently measuring and reporting results, the Applied Materials Foundation has tracked the return on our 10-year, $15 million investment. Not only have students and their families benefited, but also the local region as a whole is now enriched by the increased number of capable young people who are equipped and motivated to become the contributors and leaders of tomorrow.

The sustainability of our economy depends on narrowing the academic achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children. Applied Materials is committed to addressing this achievement gap by improving educational opportunities in the communities where it does business. Through strategic partnerships with educators and other stakeholders, Applied Materials has made it possible for thousands of at-risk youth to have a successful future in a knowledge-based economy.

Our experience has demonstrated that achieving significant results requires:

  • Commitment and leadership at all levels from all partners
  • Sustained engagement and investment over time
  • A systemic approach that develops teacher and administrator capacity, with sustainable, lasting results
  • Public/private partnerships that can accelerate improvement in student achievement
  • ROI demonstrated by progress that is outpacing incremental gains across the region
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